Response Rate and Reinforcement Rate in Pavlovian Conditioning

20 October 2011

Four experiments used delay conditioning of magazine approach in rats to investigate the relationship between the rate of responding, R, to a conditioned stimulus (CS) and the rate, r, at which the CS is reinforced with the unconditioned stimulus (US). Rats were concurrently trained with four variable-duration CSs with different rs, either as a result of differences in the mean CS-US interval or in the proportion of CS presentations that ended with the US. In each case, R was systematically related to r, and the relationship was very accurately characterized by a hyperbolic function, R = Ar/(r+c). Accordingly, the reciprocal of these two variables – response interval, I (=1/R), and CS-US interval, i (=1/r) – were related by a simple affine (straight line) transformation, I = mi+b. This latter relationship shows that each increment in the time that the rats had to wait for food produced a linear increment in the time they waited between magazine entries. We discuss the close agreement between our findings and the Matching Law (Herrnstein, 1970), and consider their implications for both associative theories (e.g., Rescorla & Wagner, 1972) and non-associative theories (Gallistel & Gibbon, 2000) of conditioning.