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Effects of Learning Constraints and Behavioural Organization On the Association of Vocalizations and Hunger in Burmese Red Junglefowl Chicks

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This study was designed to investigate three interrelated questions. One is a learning problem: Are two different behaviours, neither necessary motor components of feeding, affected in the same way, or any wat at all, by contingent access to or loss of access to food? One is a developmental question: How do various contingencies affect the acquisition and performance of vocalizations and feeding, relative to their acquisition without explicit contingencies? The third is a question about the organization of behaviour: Can the results of the first two lines of inquiry elucidate the formation of motivation systems such as Hunger and Fear, and if so, how ? Burmese Red Jungle fowl chicks were food deprived and isolated. The observer monitored the vocalizations and behaviours of the chick, and could present or remove food from the chamber through relay circuits. Tests began when chicks were five days old, continued daily for ten days, and were followed by two days of extinction trials. There were four groups of experimental chicks; 'Twitter+' (a Twitter Call following onset of a signal light was reinforced with food), 'Shrill+' (a Shrill Call following onset of the signal light was reinforced with food), 'Twitter-' (food was presented at the onset of the signal light but was removed when a chick uttered a Twitter Call), and 'Shrill-' (a Shrill Call terminated access to signaled food). Each chick was assigned to one group, and every experimental chick was paired with a yoked control. Each chick received ten pairings each day, and on each trial Latency to Criterion Vocalization, Number of Twitter Calls, Number of Shrill Calls, Number of Food Pecks and Number of Pecks at Nonfood Objects were recorded. In the 'Twitter+' condition no non-procedural differences were found between experimental and control chicks. Twitter Calls and Food Pecks increased over days, while Latency to Twitter Call and Shrill Calls decreased. In the 'Shrill+' condition, however experimental and control chicks did differ significantly on several measures, showing that a positive operant contingency can affect some vocal behaviours. However the trends over days in each behaviour were in the same direction for both groups, and the same as or 'Twitter+' chicks. Only the rates of the trends differed, in spite of very different contingencies or no contingency at all. Twitter Calls are not intrasigent to reinforcement however, because there were differences between experimental and control 'Twitter-' chicks. Again, however, trends over days in these chicks were largely the same as those of the '+' chicks, with the contingency only affecting the rate of change in the behaviours. Finally, 'Shrill-' experimental and control chicks did not differ in any relevant behaviours, and the directions of changes over days were the same as in other groups. Analyses of the extinction data supported the interpretation that the 'Twitter-' and 'Shrill+' contingencies affected behaviours, but the 'Twitter+' and 'Shrill-' contingencies did not. To compare between contingencies, data were converted to rates per second for the behaviours. The most noteworthy results of these analyses were that 'Twitter-' experimental chicks showed depressed rates of Twitter Calling in later sessions, whereas 'Shrill+' chicks retained Shrill Calling at a short latency when it was becoming uncommon in other groups. 'Twitter-' chicks showed elevated rates of Shrill Calling, and usually depressed rates of Food Pecking, although both behaviours were experimentally neutral. Twitter Calling tends to increase in rate over days, and positive reinforcement does not facilitate that increase. Shrill Calling decreases in rate over days, and negative reinforcement does not facilitate the decrease. In terms of the learning problem, operant learning must be qualified not just in terms of the response and the reinforcer, as noted by others, but also by exactly what form the contingency takes. Explanation of autoshaping and negative automaintenance in terms of "Pavlovian trapping" must include not only the effects of reinforcing motor acts that are necessary parts of consummatory responses, but other behaviours such as vocalizations as well. In terms of the development problem, contingencies seem to have little to do with determining the contexts in which specific vocalizations are performed. Vocalizations show definate directions and rates of change in control chicks. Reinforcement can "brake" these trends, but not facilitate them, even though there is evidence that the chicks are not performing at floor or ceiling rates. These results can be explained if Twitter Calling and Food Pecking are assumed to be facilitated by food when Hunger is high, and Shrill Calling facilitated by Fear or Frustation, which also inhibit Twitter Calling and Food Pecking. The results can reflect an increase in incentive value of food as chicks grow, an increase in Hunger, and a decrease in Fear or Frustration as chicks become accustomed to the test chamber. The experiment does not elucidate, however, why or how the behaviours become specifically associated with the various systems, either in a facilitory or inhibitory manner, or in the case of Pecking at Non-food Objects, not at all. The structure or organization of behaviour can be used in this study only in a post hoc manner. How the behaviours gain their initial motivational properties remains unclear.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Ont., Canada


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