Pigeons' choices between fixed-interval and random-interval schedules: Utility of variability?
Pigeons’ choosing between fixed-interval and random-interval schedules of reinforcement was investigated in three experiments using a discrete-trial procedure. In all three experiments, the random- interval schedule was generated by sampling a probability distribution at an interval (and in multiples of the interval) equal to that of the fixed-interval schedule. Thus the programmed delays to reinforcement on the random alternative were never shorter and were often longer than the fixed interval. Despite this feature, the fixed schedule was not strongly preferred. Increases in the probability used to generate the random interval resulted in decreased preferences for the fixed schedule. In addition, the number of consecutive choices on the preferred alternative varied directly with preference, whereas the consecutive number of choices on the nonpreferred alternative was fairly constant. The probability of choosing the random alternative was unaffected by the immediately prior interval encountered on that schedule, even when it was very long relative to the average value. The results loosely support conceptions of a ‘‘preference for variability’’ from foraging theory and the ‘‘utility of behavioral variability’’ from human decision-making literatures.