Melioration revisited: A systematic replication of Vaughan (1981).

J Exp Anal Behav. 2018 Apr 15;:

Authors: Bland VJ, Cowie S, Elliffe D, Podlesnik CA

Abstract
Organisms that behave so as to forfeit a relatively higher overall rate of reinforcement in favor of a relatively lower rate are said to engage in suboptimal choice. Suboptimal choice has been linked with maladaptive behavior in humans. Melioration theory offers one explanatory framework for suboptimal choice. Melioration theory suggests behavior is controlled by differences in local reinforcer rates between alternatives. Vaughan (1981) arranged two experimental conditions in which maximizing the overall rate of reinforcement required behavior that was compatible, or incompatible, with melioration. Vaughan found pigeons allocated more time to a locally richer alternative even when doing so resulted in suboptimal choice. However, Vaughan did not show whether these effects could systematically reverse and did not provide within-session data to show that choice across short time spans remains under the control of differences in local reinforcer rates. The present study used pigeons to replicate and extend Vaughan’s findings. We investigated shifts in overall- and within-session choice across repeated conditions, according to arranged local contingencies. Behavior systematically followed changes in local contingencies for most pigeons. Within-session data suggests that, providing differences in local reinforcer rates are discriminated, pigeons will allocate more time to a locally richer alternative, even if this leads to suboptimal choice. These findings facilitate the more confident use of similar procedures that investigate how melioration contributes to suboptimal choice.

PMID: 29656509 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

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