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.


40th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2014

Event Details

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Symposium #229
Behavioral Variability: Its Fundamental Importance and Relation to Other Phenomena
Sunday, May 25, 2014
2:00 PM–3:50 PM
W176c (McCormick Place Convention Center)
Area: EAB; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: Adam H. Doughty (College of Charleston)
Discussant: Federico Sanabria (Arizona State University)

This symposium will highlight recent advances in the experimental analysis of behavioral variability. Our first presentation (Galizio & Doughty) will include data from pigeons bearing on the issue of how to conceptualize reinforced behavioral variability (i.e., as reinforced directly or as a byproduct of other processes). The second presentation (Stahlman, Lau, & Leising) then will present data from rats related to the role of behavioral variability in both operant and respondent preparations and its potential implications for understanding creativity. Our third talk (Abreu-Rodrigues & Pontes) will include data from humans in which the resurgence of behavioral variability was examined as a function of instruction type. The fourth talk (Neuringer & Jensen) will present data from pigeons in which sensitivity to matching was assessed in a typical concurrent schedule and under an operant-variability contingency. As illustrated above, the experimental analysis of behavioral variability cuts across species (pigeons, rats, and people), conditioning type (operant, respondent), and topics (e.g., creativity, resurgence, choice). To highlight the varied nature of this important area of study, our discussant (Sanabria) will consider the implications of these presentations.

Keyword(s): behavioral variability, choice, creativity, operant variability
Understanding Behavioral Variability: Effects of Response Spacing and Reinforcement Contingency
ANN GALIZIO (College of Charleston), Adam H. Doughty (College of Charleston)
Abstract: Neuringer states that behavioral variability can be directly reinforced, such as when pigeons vary between a number of response sequences (e.g., LRRL, where L and R are left- and right-key pecks, respectively). Alternatively, Machado argues that such variability is a byproduct of the reinforcement of switching between individual pecks within a sequence. We conducted two experiments related to an understanding of the variables that impact reinforced behavioral variability. In Experiment 1, variability of 4-peck sequences was assessed as a function of inter-response interval duration and inter-trial interval duration. Variability was affected only by changes in inter-response interval duration. In Experiment 2, we compared variability in 4-peck sequences under a threshold contingency that required behavioral variability and a contingency that required a single changeover within the sequence (but not necessarily variability). Variability was higher under the threshold contingency. The implications of these results for understanding the reinforcement of behavioral variability will be discussed.

Respondent Variability and Its Possible Relation to Creative Behavior

WILLIAM DAVID STAHLMAN (University of Mary Washington), Matthew Lau (University of California, Los Angeles), Kenneth J. Leising (Texas Christian University)

Research has demonstrated that behavioral variability is predictively modulated by signals of the perceived quantity (e.g., the probability) or quality (e.g., the size) of a reinforcer. In general, an animals actions become more variable when the quality or quantity of an expected outcome is low. In addition to isolating factors that influence variability, it is worthwhile to identify other measures that correlate with enhanced variability. One such measure, an organisms reduced sensitivity to CS-US relations following its experience of CS-alone training (i.e., latent inhibition), has been shown to correlate with creative behavior in humans. We conducted a study to examine this relationship in rats. We trained rats in both a Pavlovian latent inhibition task and an operant task. We posited that a similar relationship ought to exist between latent inhibition and operant variability, should a mechanism generating creative output in humans be the same as the one that supports operant variability. Therefore, we predicted rats that demonstrated rapid learning in the Pavlovian task to demonstrate greater performance variability in the operant task. We present data bearing on the relationship between the two types of learning events and suggest that a fundamental process may be responsible for behavior labeled as creative.


Resurgence of Systematic and Random Patterns of Response Sequences

JOSELE ABREU-RODRIGUES (Universidade de Brasilia), Thaissa Pontes (Universidade de Brasilia)

The present study investigated the resurgence of response sequences in a context of systematic and random variation. College students were required to emit sequences of five-key presses. The Systematic Group was instructed to emit sequences according to some systematic pattern while the Random Group was instructed to emit sequences randomly; the Control Group did not receive instructions. In the Reinforcement phase, a continuous reinforcement schedule (CRF) was in effect for sequence 1, and a variation contingency for all other sequences. In the Elimination phase, sequence 1 was under extinction while sequence 2 was continuously reinforced; the variation contingency was in effect for the remaining sequences. In the Resurgence phase, all 32 possible sequences were under extinction. During the Reinforcement and Elimination phases, all groups learned the target sequences. Also, the Systematic and Random groups produced sequence patterns according to the instructions, mainly in the first phase; the Control Group showed mixed sequence patterns. In the Resurgence phase, sequence 1 reappeared for all participants, but because its occurrence was no greater than that of the other sequences, it is questioned whether resurgence was demonstrated. More convincing evidence of resurgence was provided by the reappearance of the instructed sequence patterns.

Similarity of Choices under Concurrent and Operant-Variability Schedules of Reinforcement
ALLEN NEURINGER (Reed College), Greg Jensen (Columbia University)
Abstract: When animals and people choose under concurrent schedules of reinforcement, their choices show three characteristics. First, overall choice distributions tend to match the distributions of reinforcers. Second, the choices tend to be emitted stochastically, i.e., in a way that makes individual choices difficult to predict. Third, however, when cues (external or indigenous to the reinforcement schedule) provide information about the next reinforcer, those cues influence the next choice. This three-part theory of choices was tested with pigeons choosing among five operanda under two different schedules: a concurrent schedule and an operant-variability schedule (where stochastic-like responses were explicitly reinforced). Matching described response distributions under both schedules; responses approximated a stochastic model under both schedules; and schedule-dependent differential cues affected choices under both. However, differences also emerged. Matching was more precise under the operant-variability than the concurrent schedule. Approximations to a stochastic model were closer under the operant-variability schedule. And the individual characteristics of the two schedules resulted in higher frequences of switching (than predicted by stochastic matching) among operanda under the concurrent schedules and lower frequencies under the operant-variability schedule. In conclusion, we demonstrated both general similarities in choices under the two schedules and schedule-specific differences.



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