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A Theory of Attending and Reinforcement in Conditional Discriminations
Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (2005)
  • John A. Nevin, University of New Hampshire
  • Michael Davidson, University of Auckland
  • Timothy A. Shahan, Utah State University

A model of conditional discrimination performance (Davison & Nevin, 1999) is combined with the notion that unmeasured attending to the sample and comparison stimuli, in the steady state and during disruption, depends on reinforcement in the same way as predicted for overt free-operant responding by behavioral momentum theory (Nevin & Grace, 2000). The rate of observing behavior, a measurable accompaniment of attending, is well described by an equation for steady-state responding derived from momentum theory, and the resistance to change of observing conforms to predictions of momentum theory, supporting a key assumption of the model. When probabilities of attending are less than 1.0, the model accounts for some aspects of conditional-discrimination performance that posed problems for the Davison-Nevin model: (a) the effects of differential reinforcement on the allocation of responses to the comparison stimuli and on accuracy in several matching-to-sample and signal-detection tasks where the differences between the stimuli or responses were varied across conditions, (b) the effects of overall reinforcer rate on the asymptotic level and resistance to change of both response rate and accuracy of matching to sample in multiple schedules, and (c) the effects of fixed-ratio reinforcement on accuracy. Some tests and extensions of the model are suggested, and the role of unmeasured events in behavior theory is considered.

  • attending,
  • behavioral momentum,
  • conditional discrimination,
  • matching to sample,
  • signal detection,
  • observing behavior
Publication Date
September 1, 2005
Publisher Statement
Originally published by the Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. Publisher's PDF available through remote link.
Citation Information
Nevin, J. A. Davison, M. & Shahan, T. A. (2005) A theory of attending and reinforcement in conditional discriminations. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 84, 281-303.