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.


42nd Annual Convention; Downtown Chicago, IL; 2016

Event Details

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B. F. Skinner Lecture Series Paper Session #121
CE Offered: PSY/BACB

Prospective and Retrospective Contingency in Operantly Conditioned Behavior

Sunday, May 29, 2016
4:00 PM–4:50 PM
Grand Ballroom AB, Hyatt Regency, Gold East
Area: SCI; Domain: Basic Research
Instruction Level: Basic
CE Instructor: Suzanne H. Mitchell, Ph.D.
Chair: Suzanne H. Mitchell (Oregon Health & Science University)
CHARLES R. GALLISTEL (Rutgers University)
Charles Gallistel is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience and Cognitive Psychology at Rutgers University. His research pursues a psychophysical approach to screening for memory malfunction in genetically manipulated mice; these behavioral screens look for distortions and increased noise in simple quantitative memories like interval duration, distance, and number.

Contingency is a fundamental concept in associative learning, but it has not been defined in such a way that it could be measured in most conditioning paradigms, particularly operant paradigms. A simple information-theoretic measure of contingency may be applied to most classical and operant associative learning paradigms. In applying it to assess the role of contingency in maintaining responding on variable interval schedules of reinforcement, we distinguish between prospective contingency—the extent to which one event (e.g., a response) predicts another (e.g., a reinforcement)—and retrospective contingency—the extent to which one event (e.g., a reinforcement) retrodicts another (e.g., a response). We find that the prospective contingency between response and reinforcement is un-measurably small, that is, the probability of reinforcement at any latency following a response does not differ from the probability of reinforcement following a randomly chosen moment in time. By contrast, the retrospective contingency is perfect. Degrading the retrospective contingency in two different ways, by delay of reinforcement or by partial non-contingent reinforcement, suggests that reinforcement is only effective when it falls within a critical time window, which implies that retrospective temporal pairing is critical, not retrospective contingency.

Target Audience:

Licensed Psychologists, certified behavior analysts, graduate students.

Learning Objectives: At the end of the presentation, the participant will be able to: (1) define contingency; (2) explain the difference between prospective and retrospective contingency; (3) discuss the role of contingency in conditioning.



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