[From Bill Powers (970910.0138 MDT)]
Bruce Abbott (970909.1315 EST)--
In those cases, so was the appearance that behavior rate was related to
reinforcement rate an artifact.
The same experiment showed that the rate at which the rats responded on the
lever was low during initial training (before they had learned the
relationship between lever pressing and pellet delivery) and high
thereafter. Although we didn't do it, we easily could have shown that the
observed increase depended materially on the fact that pressing the lever
causes food pellet delivery. An increase in response rate that results from
making an event contingent on the response is called reinforcement; we
certainly observed that result.
Allow me to offer a different description.
Before the rats were able efficiently to generate the action would produce
the food, they produced the relevant action only in passing. Then, as their
behavior patterns changed, their actions came to produce the food more and
more often, until the actions were producing food at a limiting rate. From
then on, the rate of food delivery was maintained by the maximum rate of
action that the rats could sustain.
When much greater amounts of food are produced by a given behavior rate,
the rats do not change their behavior rate appreciably. They behave in a
stereotyped way, producing and eating food as quickly as possible until a
certain amount of food has been ingested, producing shorter and shorter
bursts of behavior as the normal meal size is approached and then doing
other things for a hour or more. Then another session of eating and
ingesting takes place (if possible) until a similar meal size is generated,
and so on during a normal day, maintaining the amount of daily intake that
the rats require, or an individual rat requires.
What we observe is the behavior maintaining the food delivery rate to the
extent physically possible, in the dictionary sense of the transitive verb,
"to maintain." The subject is the rat, the object is the rate of food
delivery, and the means is the production of behavior in such a way as to
produce the food.
The role of the experimenter is limited to setting up a means by which the
rat's behavior, should the particular act occur, can generate food which
the rat can eat. Since the experimenter is the more powerful of the two
participants in the situation, the experimenter can establish any relation
between any action and the appearance of food, and prevent any other action
from producing food. The rat's requirements for food determine that the rat
will search for and find the key behavior or something sufficiently like it
to generate food, provided that the requirement is not beyond the rat's
ability to discover it, and that the action needed is not beyond the rat's
ability to sustain it.
If the experimenter changes the contingency, the expected effect with no
change in the rat's pattern of behavior would be an increase or a decrease
in the rate of food delivery. If physically possible, the rat's pattern of
behavior always changes so as to restore the rate of food delivery to its
original level, or as close to it as possible. The only exception is when
the rat is already producing as much behavior of the right kind as it can,
and the change of contingency reduces the rate of food delivery. Then we
observe no counteracting change in the rat's behavior, because no more
behavior can be generated.
What we have here is an animal presented with a problem which it proceeds
to solve to the best of its ability, unaided except for any hints provided
by the experimenter by way of shaping. The experimenter sets the problem by
creating a contingency. The rat solves it by varying its patterns of action
until it is producing as near to the amount of food it needs as it can
under the given circumstances --neither more nor less.
This, I submit, is a fairly complete and accurate account of what is
observed, at least as complete and accurate as any behaviorist account of
similar length and detail. All references to agency and direction of
causation are expressed correctly in terms of conventional interpretations
and direct observations; the behavior is produced by the rat, the
requirements for food are the rat's, and the rate of food delivery is
completely dependent on the rat's actions. The experimenter's action
consists entirely of setting up the passive environmental link between some
action and food delivery rate, and this link runs in one direction only,
from action to food delivery.
I suggest that the reason why the rate of pellet delivery turned out not
vary across the different values of the ratio schedule we tested is that the
rats were not controlling for rate of pellet delivery, but rather for access
to food pellets in the cup as soon as the rat desired another pellet for
consumption. Because completing the ratio imposed a delay (owing to the
fact that lever presses require time to execute), the best that the rat
could do was respond as rapidly as possible at all ratio values.
This implies that under other conditions, the rats would press at lower
than maximum rates. I say this is false: the rats are incapable of
producing a systematically variable rhythm of lever pressing. All they can
do is produce a rapid repetitive action on the lever, or cease pressing
altogether. They are either producing this stereotyped action, or they are
doing something else. The only reason that "rate of pressing" caught on as
a measure of behavior was that the measure was obtained by dividing total
presses by session duration. As a result, the rat's changing the _kind_ or
_location_ of behavior was indistinguishable from its changing the _rate_
of behavior of a single kind at a single location. In fact, the latter,
which is assumed to occur, does not occur. So it does not need an explanation.
Reinforcement theory would account for the same constancy in rate by noting
that, on ratio schedules, higher rates of responding yield shorter times to
reinforcement, which in turn would be expected to generate yet higher rates
of responding. This is a positive feedback loop that pushes response rate
up to the maximum, or at least to an equilibrium value established by the
conflicting effects of reinforcement and response effort. (Effort increases
with rate; a response rate is reached where the decrease in delay to
reinforcement is balanced by the increase in effort.
There is no need for this explanation, because rates of responding do not
actually change. If they did change, the explanation might be appropriate,
but as they do not, the explanation is empty of meaning. It explains
something that does not happen. I should also point out that whatever we
observe about behavior, it is not "responses." To observe a response one
must also observe the stimulus; otherwise all that one is observing is an
What I am saying here, Bruce, is that the behaviorist account, which you
present as a simple factual description of observations, is nothing of the
sort. It is a biased account slanted toward encouraging the listener to
conclude that the environment is controlling behavior -- that behavior is
controlled by its consequences, which is exactly the opposite of the truth.
In my alternative account above, there is no way to conclude that the
environment is in control. From this account, it is obvious that the rat is
an active agent working through a passive environment. It is clear that the
delivery of food pellets is the rat's doing, not the environment's, and
that the pellets are doing nothing to the rat's behavior; they are simply
All the strange, contorted, backward reasoning in behaviorist accounts, all
the special terminology, all the special definitions of auxiliary terms
that ignore the primary usages of the words, all the insistence on a
particular set of terms in which to express observations -- all this points
in only one direction. It points to a concerted attempt to put the
environment into the causal role and remove purposiveness from organisms.
I don't see how you can deny this: this has been the avowed purpose of
behaviorists like Skinner and his followers from the very beginning.
Skinner said you must always chooose the way of speaking that attributes
the initiation of behavior to the environment; that science itself demands
this overt bias; that nobody who speaks otherwise can really be a
scientist. And his words have been echoed again and again; they are part of
the behaviorist credo. The term "radical behaviorism" is well chosen; this
movement is a extremist one based not on science but on ideology.
One last point. Even though I am a control theorist and think that PCT is
basically correct, and wish to persuade others to my point of view, I can
still describe the facts on which PCT is based without using a single
special term. I can do it without mentioning control, controlled variables,
reference levels or signals, errors or error signals, disturbances (in any
special sense), input functions, comparator functions, or output functions.
I can describe these phenomena in such a way that nobody who doesn't know
me (or control theory) would ever guess what explanation I might offer.
Can you do the same for EAB? I very much doubt it. The language of EAB uses
special terms and auxiliary words each one of which is carefully defined
(mostly in unusual ways) to support the theoretical position that is
asserted with every breath. Theory and observation are so intertwined that
there is no way to separate them; take away the special terms, and the
observations can't even be described. If you're not allowed to use the word
"reinforcement," what do you say instead? Any other terms you might use
would lay out for all to see what the theoretical bias is. Try it and see.