Studies Of Operant And Reflexive Key Pecks In The Pigeon

Barry Schwartz, Swarthmore College


The duration of pigeons' key pecks was studied in three experiments. Experiment I revealed that key pecks early in exposure to continuous reinforcement were of short duration, as were key pecks observed on an omission procedure in which pecks prevented food delivery. Key pecks later in exposure to continuous reinforcement, and those that occurred on positive automaintenance procedures, were of long duration. In Experiment II, pigeons were exposed to fixed-interval and fixed-ratio reinforcement schedules, and durations were recorded separately for each quarter of each interval or ratio. On fixed interval, durations were shorter in the first quarter of each interval than in subsequent quarters; on fixed ratio, durations were longer in the first quarter of the ratio than in subsequent quarters. These data parallel observations of concurrent operant responding and salivation in dogs. In Experiment III, pigeons were exposed to a discrete trial, differential-reinforcement-of-low-rate 6-sec schedule. Durations of responses in the first 2 sec of the trial were substantially shorter than those of responses that occurred later. The data from all three experiments support the view that the pigeon's “key peck” actually consists of two subclasses of peck, one reflexive and one operant.