Behavioral Contrast in Competitive and Non-Competitive Environments

James Dougan, Frances McSweeney, Valeri Farmer-Dougan

Research output: Journal ArticleArticlepeer-review


Three experiments examined the effects of opportunities for an alternative response (drinking) on positive behavioral contrast of rats' food-reinforced bar pressing. In both Experiments I and 2 the baseline multiple variable-interval schedules were rich (variable interval 10-s), and contrast was examined both with and without a water bottle present. In Experiment 1, the rats were not water deprived. When one component of the multiple schedule was changed to extinction, the rate of bar pressing increased in the constant component (positive behavioral contrast). The magnitude of contrast was larger when the bottle was absent than when it was present, as predicted by the matching law. Drinking did not shift from the constant variable-interval component to the extinction component, as might have been expected from competition theory. In Experiment 2, the rats were water deprived. Contrast was larger when the bottle was present than when it was absent, and drinking did shift to the extinction component, as predicted by competition theory. In Experiment 3, water-deprived rats responded on leaner multiple variable-interval schedules (60-s) in the presence of a water bottle. When one component was changed to extinction, contrast did not occur, and drinking did not shift to the extinction component. The present results suggest that there are at least two different sources of behavioral contrast: "competitive" contrast, observed when an alternative response occurs with high probability, and "noncompetitive" contrast, observed when an alternative response occurs with low probability. The results, in conjunction with earlier studies, also suggest that the form of the alternative response and the rate of food reinforcement provided by the multiple schedule combine to determine the amount of contrast.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalJournal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior
StatePublished - 1986


  • Behavioral contrast
  • behavioral competition
  • matching theory
  • multiple schedules
  • bar pressing
  • rats.


  • Psychology

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