Reinforcement-Induced Behavioral Stereotypy: How Not To Teach People To Discover Rules

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Journal Of Experimental Psychology


Seven experiments examined the effects of contingent reinforcement on complex responses in 115 undergraduates. To obtain reinforcement, Ss were required to press 2 keys 4 times each, in any order. 70 successful sequences were possible. Exp I showed that Ss developed stereotyped response sequences even when the reinforcement contingency did not require stereotypy. Exp II showed that extinction increased sequence variability. Exp III indicated that when a subclass of possible sequences was reinforced, Ss developed stereotyped responses that belonged to that subclass. Exp IV showed that when Ss were instructed to find the rule that determined whether their sequences would be reinforced, stereotypy did not develop. However, Exp V showed that a history of reinforcement for successful sequences interfered with subsequent rule discovery. When reinforcement was made dependent on sequence variability, higher-order stereotypies developed that satisfied the variability requirement with the least variation possible (Exp VI). Exp VII showed that a history of reinforced pretraining interfered with rule discovery regardless of whether the reinforcement contingencies were still operative in the rule discovery setting. Results suggest that contingent reinforcement may create functional behavioral units in people by encouraging repetition of what has worked in the past. (64 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

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