About Bouts: A Heterogeneous Tandem Schedule of Reinforcement Reveals Dissociable Components of Operant Behavior in Fischer Rats

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Abstract

According to the biexponential refractory model (BERM) of variable-interval (VI) performance, operant behavior is organized in bouts, described by 3 dissociable components: between-bout interresponse times (IRTs), within-bout IRTs, and bout lengths. Research has shown that between-bout IRTs are sensitive to changes in rate of reinforcement and reinforcer efficacy, the length of some bouts is selectively sensitive to changes in response-reinforcer contingencies, and within-bout IRTs are relatively insensitive to both manipulations. BERM assumes that within- and between-bout IRTs are exponentially distributed, and bout lengths are described by a mixture of negative binomial and geometric distributions. To assess BERM assumptions and the interpretation of associated findings, Fischer 344/DuCrl rats were trained on a heterogeneous tandem VI fixed-ratio (FR) schedule of reinforcement intended to dissociate the components of operant behavior. Initial (VI) and terminal (FR) links were programmed on separate levers; no stimulus signaled the completion of the initial link. FR requirement, VI requirement, and deprivation level were varied. Typical performance consisted of single responses on the VI lever separated by response runs on the FR lever. It was hypothesized that (a) the interval between the end of each FR run and the first subsequent VI response (FR–VI IRTs) would constitute between-bout IRTs, and would be sensitive to changes in VI requirement and deprivation level, (b) FR runs would constitute response bouts, so the length of a fraction of them would be selectively sensitive to changes in FR requirement, and (c) intervals between consecutive FR responses (FR–FR IRTs) would constitute within-bout IRTs, and would be relatively robust to all manipulations. Findings were consistent with these expectations. The underlying distributions of FR–FR IRTs, FR–VI IRTs, and FR run lengths, however, were inconsistent with BERM assumptions. These data support the distinct components of operant performance, but challenge the simple processes assumed to underlie their generation.

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