Pigeons have shown suboptimal gambling-like behavior when preferring a stimulus that infrequently signals reliable reinforcement over alternatives that provide greater reinforcement overall. As a mechanism for this behavior, recent research proposed that the stimulus value of alternatives with more reliable signals for reinforcement will be preferred relatively independently of their frequencies. The present study tested this hypothesis using a simplified design of a Discriminative alternative that, 50% of the time, led to either a signal for 100% reinforcement or a blackout period indicative of 0% reinforcement against a Nondiscriminative alternative that always led to a signal that predicted 50% reinforcement. Pigeons showed a strong preference for the Discriminative alternative that remained despite reducing the frequency of the signal for reinforcement in subsequent phases to 25% and then 12.5%. In Experiment 2, using the original design of Experiment 1, the stimulus following choice of the Nondiscriminative alternative was increased to 75% and then to 100%. Results showed that preference for the Discriminative alternative decreased only when the signals for reinforcement for the two alternatives predicted the same probability of reinforcement. The ability of several models to predict this behavior are discussed, but the terminal link stimulus value offers the most parsimonious account of this suboptimal behavior.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Alexandria R. Bailey was supported by an Oswald Research and Creativity Award.
S1 Dataset. Experimental Data. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0159336.s001 (XLSX)
Smith, Aaron P.; Bailey, Alexandria R.; Chow, Jonathan J.; Beckmann, Joshua S.; and Zentall, Thomas R., "Suboptimal Choice in Pigeons: Stimulus Value Predicts Choice over Frequencies" (2016). Psychology Faculty Publications. 135.