Philip N. Hineline
Matthew Andrzejewski, Claudia Cardinal, and Tom Waltz
The general unifying theme of research in my laboratory is that of extended time relations in behavioral process. More specifically, experiments on choice in situations of diminishing returns (analogous to foraging in a depleting patch, or to coping with a deteriorating economic situation) have yielded systematic, nonlinear quantitative functions that describe the subjects sensitivity to aggregates of delayed rewards. Experiments with pigeons, with humans, and with rats as subjects have all yielded data indicating systematic, nonlinear quantitative functions that describe the subjects sensitivity to aggregates of delayed events. Recent experiments have compared various patterns of escalation (e.g. incrementing work requirements by constant proportions vs. by constant amounts, or by incrementing the work requirements probabilistically) to see whether the same invariances describe the resulting patterns of choice.
Other experiments address choice between fixed vs. variable work requirements or outcomes. Some of these have revealed remarkably long-lasting effects of isolated quick successes embedded in the less advantageous of two alternatives. In contrast, other experiments have shown surprising insensitivity to the costs of persistently choosing certain types of probabilistic alternative that never provide the quick payoff and also yield the inferior outcome in the long run. It is of both practical and theoretical importance to identify the determinants of these persisting maladaptive choice patterns. In practical terms, this is relevant to self-destructive persistence in gambling, which is a growing social concern with the expansion of legalized gambling in many states. Of theoretical interest, the first type of finding is focused on refining behavior-analytic theories of choice. The latter results are contrary to a general pattern of findings in the literature on choice, as well as contrary to relevant economic theories, which have emphasized rate of payoff or optimization of resources as primary determinants of animals and humans choices between resources or work requirements.
A third line of research concerns what it is to know, in a fundamental sense of that word. In behavioral theory, Pavlovian and operant conditioning processes are understood to be at the root of a complex organisms transactions with its environment. In a wide range of circumstances, effects of the two types of process are clearly distinguishable, but an extensive literature spanning several decades has indicated that when the two are addressed to closely comparable sets of events it is difficult to cleanly isolate them. In 1981, an experiment by Marcucella accidentally revealed a clean experimental dissociation between operant and Pavlovian discriminative process that involved a single response and identical events for both processes. It was a remarkable experiment, whose surprising result can readily be understood when it is described in ordinary language rather than technical terms: The pigeons that served as subjects seemed simultaneously to both know and to not know about a single set of events. Having replicated Marcucellas basic finding, we have added several control procedures and parametric manipulations that verified the robustness of the effect, and are now using more analytic experiments in an exploration of its nature.
A background theme of scholarship that has also resulted in several publications concerns the characteristics of explanatory language. The guiding thesis of this work, is that in many disagreements between proponents of alternative viewpoints in psychology the key issues embedded in the arguments are not recognized. These concern assumptions regarding contiguous vs. remote causation, as well as properties of agency that are unwittingly smuggled from ordinary language into technical discourse. The current thrust of this work is to achieve a synthesis of contributions from attribution theory, in social psychology, and behavior-analytic principles for interpretation of verbal behavior.
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