A Comparison of the Effects of Loss Avoidance and Positive Reinforcement Contingencies
AuthorToney, Deric Edward
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Two experiments were conducted with undergraduate students to compare the effects of reinforcement and extinction in gain (positive reinforcement) and loss avoidance (negative reinforcement) contingencies. In experiment #1, participants were assigned to one of three groups: Loss, Gain, or Control (N = 36 per group). Participants completed math worksheets during the session. Reinforcement was contingent upon the duration in which participants completed each worksheet with respect to a changing criterion. In the Loss group, participants lost $1 for each trial in which the trial duration exceeded the current criterion, while participants in the Gain condition earned $1 for each trial in which the trial duration was less than the current criterion. Data were collected on the change in relative duration following instances of both reinforcement and extinction in each contingency. Results indicated that the effects of extinction in the loss avoidance contingency (Losses) were nearly identical to those of extinction in the gain contingency (No-Gains). The same results were obtained in comparing the effects of instances of reinforcement in the loss avoidance contingency (No-Losses) and the gain contingency (Gains). In experiment #2, a within-subject (N = 43) comparison of the effects of loss avoidance and gain contingencies was conducted across Loss-Gain and Gain-Loss groups. Results indicated that no significant difference existed between the effects of reinforcement and those of extinction across the two contingencies, as with experiment #1. Results are discussed in terms of how they may contribute to an understanding of the loss avoidance contingency, and further, to provide a behavior-analytic investigation of behavioral economics’ concept of loss aversion.