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The effect of economy type on reinforcer value

Kearns, David N.
Behavioural processes 2019 v.162 pp. 20-28
animal behavior, drugs, foraging, games, humans, mice, monkeys, prediction, rats, saccharin, satiety
This article reviews studies investigating the effect of economy type on reinforcer value. In a closed economy, consumption of the reinforcer depends entirely on the subject’s behavior, whereas in an open economy it does not, due, for example, to the provision of free reinforcers after the session. In theory, reinforcers should have higher value in a closed economy than in an open economy. Experimental results relevant to this prediction and methods used to test economy type effects are summarized and discussed here. Studies have tested the effect of economy type on the value of a variety of reinforcers, including food, water, saccharin, various drugs, and video games. Subjects used have varied also and include humans, monkeys, rats, and mice. Whether economy type had an effect on reinforcer value appears to depend on the particular reinforcer studied and on the species used. In general, where there was a difference in reinforcer value across economies, the effect was consistent with the prediction that value should be lower in the open economy. In some studies, however, satiation across economy types may have been responsible for the difference, or at least contributed to it. Potential explanations for the economy type effect, including substitution of future reinforcers for current reinforcers, contingency degradation, anticipatory contrast, and optimal foraging, are discussed.