Context effects on choice

Jay N. Goldshmidt, K. Matthew Lattal, Edmund Fantino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Four pigeons responded on a concurrent-chains schedule in four experiments that examined whether the effectiveness of a stimulus as a conditioned reinforcer is best described by a global approach, as measured by the average interreinforcement interval, or by a local contextual approach, as measured by the onset of the stimulus preceding the conditioned reinforcer. The interreinforcement interval was manipulated by the inclusion of an intertrial interval, which increased the overall time to reinforcement but did not change the local contingencies on a given trial. A global analysis predicted choice for the richer alternative to decrease with the inclusion of an intertrial interval, whereas a local analysis predicted no change in preference. Experiment 1 examined sensitivity to intertrial intervals when each was signaled by the same houselight that operated throughout the session. In Experiment 2, the intertrial interval always was signaled by the stimulus correlated with the richer terminal link. In Experiment 3, the intertrial interval was signaled by the keylights correlated with the initial links and two novel houselights. Experiment 4 provided free food pseudorandomly during the intertrial interval. In all experiments, subjects' preferences were consistent with a local analysis of choice in concurrent chains. These results are discussed in terms of delay-reduction theory, which traditionally has failed to distinguish global and local contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-320
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the experimental analysis of behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Choice
  • Concurrent chains
  • Conditioned reinforcement
  • Delay-reduction theory
  • Intertrial interval
  • Key peck
  • Pigeons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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