R-R or S-R Associations?

According to Skinner, operant conditioning is not based on stimulus-response (S-R) associations, but rather on response-reinforcer (R-R) associations. Let us briefly look at some evidence. A rat is trained to make one type of response for one reinforcer - say chocolate-drops and a different response for a second reinforcer - food pellets. If the value of the first reinforcer is now reduced, for example by presenting it in the animals' home cage in conjunction with a chemical which makes the rat nauseous, then, when the rat returns to the Skinner box he will produce much less of the first type of behavior. If the animal had learned a stimulus-response association - i.e. when put in the Skinner-box there is an association with producing the first behavior, then we would not expect to see less of behavior one even before the animal has obtained a reinforcer. If, on the other hand, the association is between response and reinforcement then devaluation of the reinforcer would be expected to have just the effect observed on behavior. We can also demonstrate the R-R nature of operant associations by presenting additional reinforcers not contingent on responding on one of a pair of schedules. Imaging the same initial situation, however, now instead of devaluing chocolate-drops by paring them with poison we begin to present some chocolate drops to the animal in the Skinner-box whether or not it has met the schedule contingency. The animal now again makes fewer of the first 'chocolate-drop' responses. Again, the stimulus (the SD, being in the box and so on) have not changed yet a change in the contingency between response and reinforcement has effected behavior.

This document has been restructured from a lecture kindly provided by R.W.Kentridge.