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Delay of reinforcement versus rate of reinforcement in Pavlovian conditioning.

Austen, J. M. and Sanderson, D. J. (2019) 'Delay of reinforcement versus rate of reinforcement in Pavlovian conditioning.', Journal of experimental psychology : animal learning and cognition., 45 (2). pp. 203-221.


Conditioned stimulus (CS) duration is a determinant of conditioned responding, with increases in duration leading to reductions in response rates. The CS duration effect has been proposed to reflect sensitivity to the reinforcement rate across cumulative exposure to the CS, suggesting that the delay of reinforcement from the onset of the cue is not crucial. Here, we compared the effects of delay and rate of reinforcement on Pavlovian appetitive conditioning in mice. In Experiment 1, the influence of reinforcement delay on the timing of responding was removed by making the duration of cues variable across trials. Mice trained with variable duration cues were sensitive to differences in the rate of reinforcement to a similar extent as mice trained with fixed duration cues. Experiments 2 and 3 tested the independent effects of delay and reinforcement rate. In Experiment 2, food was presented at either the termination of the CS or during the CS. In Experiment 3, food occurred during the CS for all cues. The latter experiment demonstrated an effect of delay, but not reinforcement rate. Experiment 4 ruled out the possibility that the lack of effect of reinforcement rate in Experiment 3 was due to mice failing to learn about the nonreinforced CS exposure after the presentation of food within a trial. These results demonstrate that although the CS duration effect is not simply a consequence of timing of conditioned responses, it is dependent on the delay of reinforcement. The results provide a challenge to current associative and nonassociative, time-accumulation models of learning.

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Publisher statement:This article has been published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (,which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Copyright forthis article is retained by the author(s).
Date accepted:26 December 2018
Date deposited:09 January 2019
Date of first online publication:07 March 2019
Date first made open access:08 March 2019

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