Changes in Energy Expenditure and Work During Response Acquisition in Rats

Jasper Brener, Suzanne Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


The principle of least effort predicts that behavior will tend to maximum efficiency. To test this prediction, changes in the energy expended (VO2) and work performed per reinforcement were monitored continuously as rats learned to press a beam with a criterion force for liquid food rewards. All 12 subjects exhibited significant decreases in energy expended per reinforcement over the 16 days of observation. Of these, 10 subjects also decreased the work performed per reinforcement. Analyses of motor performance were undertaken to determine how motor programs for changing efficiency were generated. The 10 animals showing decreased work reinforcement also exhibited significant decreases in the variability of temporal and kinetic response features and in mean response magnitude (time integral of force or work per response) as a function of practice. Adjustments in work output were primarily accomplished by modifying temporal response features (response duration and, initially, interresponse time). The kinetic features (response recruitment and peak force) remained relatively constant for these animals. The remaining 2 subjects differed in that response recruitment increased after Day 9, resulting in progressively larger amounts of work being performed to earn each reinforcement, and the interval between successive reinforcements decreased.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)166-175
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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