Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


32nd Annual Convention; Atlanta, GA; 2006

Event Details

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Symposium #180
Operants and “Instincts”: Mutually Exclusive or a Winning Combination?
Sunday, May 28, 2006
1:30 PM–2:50 PM
Area: EAB; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: William D. Timberlake (Indiana University)
Discussant: Paul Thomas Andronis (Northern Michigan University)
Abstract: Interactions between operant learning and classical conditioning are well-established. Operant and species-typical interactions are also well-established, and the known level of involvement continues to increase. How many behavior categories are there, anyway? To help address this question, this symposium will present recent empirical results on two aspects of operant/species-typical relations: operant involvement in species-typical “instincts” such as imprinting, and species-typical effects that occur on schedules of food delivery.
Superstition Re-revisited: An Examination of Niche-Related Mechanisms Underlying Schedule Produced Behavior in Pigeons.
EDUARDO J. FERNANDEZ (Indiana University), William D. Timberlake (Indiana University)
Abstract: In 1948, Skinner described as superstitious the responses of pigeons produced by fixed-time (FT) schedules, under which food is delivered at fixed times, independent of behavior. Skinner argued that responses accidentally occurring immediately prior to the delivery of food were reinforced, and therefore more likely to occur (and be rewarded) in the future. In support of his interpretation, Skinner described a number of presumably idiosyncratic response patterns that emerged in individual pigeons. Subsequently, both Staddon and Simmelhag (1971) and Timberlake and Lucas (1985) examined this phenomenon, and concluded that the behaviors were not idiosyncratic, but were closely related to the action of food in eliciting species-typical behavior. The following studies were conducted to further contrast superstitious versus functional interpretations of behavior under FT schedules. All six experiments reported support the Timberlake and Lucas (1985) hypothesis that the behavior of pigeons under FT schedules in the laboratory reflect species-related foraging behavior, rather than idiosyncratic responses produced by chance contingencies (Skinner, 1948), and the terminal response hypothesis of Staddon and Simmelhag (1971). How these data help better understand the underlying niche-related mechanisms involved in laboratory learning will be discussed, as well as future directions.
“Imprinting” and Operants in Quail 1: Imprinting Calls as Reinforcers.
SUSAN M. SCHNEIDER (Florida International University), Robert Lickliter (Florida International University)
Abstract: Maternal “imprinting” calls can often act as operant reinforcers, and we were able to demonstrate that the northern bobwhite call was no exception. Based on research suggesting pitch as a critical element, we assessed the reinforcing value of two artificially generated sounds: the first containing several frequencies in the same high-pitched range as the maternal call, and the second a low-pitched pure tone. The higher-pitched sound was nearly as effective a primary reinforcer for hatchlings as the maternal call; the low-pitched tone was ineffective. These results suggest that acoustic frequency is a critical component of the preference for the maternal call in this precocial species, and add to the evidence for operant and species-typical behavior interactions.
“Imprinting” and Operants in Quail 2: The Power of Perinatal Contingency.
CHRISTOPHER W. HARSHAW (Florida International University), Robert Lickliter (Florida International University)
Abstract: 240 minutes of noncontingent stimulation with a species-typical maternal call is required for northern bobwhite neonates to prefer that call over an unfamiliar call 24 hours following exposure. We found greatly enhanced auditory learning in bobwhite chicks following just 5 minutes of contingent exposure to one of two individual variants (A or B) of a bobwhite maternal call 24 hours after hatching. Chicks that heard a maternal call contingent upon their own distress vocalizations showed significantly greater preferences for the familiar call when tested 24 hours later than chicks given noncontingent presentation of the same call. Chicks given noncontingent presentation to conspecific distress vocalizations as well as Call A, played as if contingent upon those vocalizations, also showed significantly greater preferences for the familiar call than chicks given noncontingent exposure. Previous findings of little or no differences in contingent vs. noncontingent learning in precocial chicks may have thus been a result of stimulus enhancement in chicks given yoked, noncontingent exposure in these studies. In nature, young organisms are exposed to contingent, vicarious, and completely noncontingent sources of stimulation. Studies utilizing only noncontingent exposure to stimulation thus likely do not represent the course and/or range of most learning during early development.



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