Reinforcement Schedule Effects on Extinction-Induced Response Variability
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Response variability is an integral feature of an organism's interactions with its surrounding environment. Once source of variable behavior is described as extinction-induced. Though response variability has been examined with a variety of organisms as an induced effect of reinforcer omission (RO), little information has been collected regarding variability as an induced effect of removing the reinforcer-response dependency, i.e., noncontingent reinforcement, or NCR. In addition, limited knowledge exists regarding the effects baseline reinforcement schedules may have on subsequent extinction-induced response variability. The current investigation assessed the effects of such variables on response location variability shown by college students performing a computer task. Results of three experiments suggest greatest extinction-induced response variability with FI schedules of reinforcement, a moderate amount with VI schedules, and the least amount with VR schedules. Extinction-induced response variability was more readily observed during RO relative to noncontingent reinforcement. Specifically, in Experiment 1, greatest response variability is observed during RO and subsequent to VI 10-s and VI 45-s reinforcement schedules. In Experiment 2, greatest response variability is observed during RO and following smaller VR schedule values (e.g., VR 10). In Experiment 3, no difference in variable responding is observed between extinction conditions; however, greatest variability is seen with larger FI values (e.g., FI 90-s). Results are discussed in terms of the utility of variable responding and the conditions under which this feature of behavior is observed. Suggestions for future research are provided.