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Human's choices in situations of time-based diminishing returns


Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 59(3): 445-470
Human's choices in situations of time-based diminishing returns
Three experiments examined adult humans' choices in situations with contrasting short-term and long-term consequences. Subjects were given repeated choices between two time-based schedules of points exchangeable for money: a fixed schedule and a progressive schedule that began at 0 s and increased by 5 s with each point delivered by that schedule. Under "reset" conditions, choosing the fixed schedule not only produced a point but it also reset the requirements of the progressive schedule to 0 s. In the first two experiments, reset conditions alternated with "no-reset" conditions, in which progressive-schedule requirements were independent of fixed-schedule choices. Experiment 1 entailed choices between a progressive-interval schedule and a fixed-interval schedule, the duration of which varied across conditions. Switching from the progressive- to the fixed-interval schedule was systematically related to fixed-interval size in 4 of 8 subjects, and in all subjects occurred consistently sooner in the progressive-schedule sequence under reset than under no-reset procedures. The latter result was replicated in a second experiment, in which choices between progressive- and fixed-interval schedules were compared with choices between progressive- and fixed-time schedules. In Experiment 3, switching patterns under reset conditions were unrelated to variations in intertrial interval. In none of the experiments did orderly choice patterns depend on verbal descriptions of the contingencies or on schedule-controlled response patterns in the presence of the chosen schedules. The overall pattern of results indicates control of choices by temporarily remote consequences, and is consistent with versions of optimality theory that address performance in situations of diminishing returns.

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Accession: 008791168

PMID: 8315364

DOI: 10.1901/jeab.1993.59-445



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