The isolation of motivational, motoric, and schedule effects on operant performance: a modeling approach.

Ryan J. Brackney, Timothy H.C. Cheung, Janet L. Neisewander, Federico Sanabria

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Dissociating motoric and motivational effects of pharmacological manipulations on operant behavior is a substantial challenge. To address this problem, we applied a response-bout analysis to data from rats trained to lever press for sucrose on variable-interval (VI) schedules of reinforcement. Motoric, motivational, and schedule factors (effort requirement, deprivation level, and schedule requirements, respectively) were manipulated. Bout analysis found that interresponse times (IRTs) were described by a mixture of two exponential distributions, one characterizing IRTs within response bouts, another characterizing intervals between bouts. Increasing effort requirement lengthened the shortest IRT (the refractory period between responses). Adding a ratio requirement increased the length and density of response bouts. Both manipulations also decreased the bout-initiation rate. In contrast, food deprivation only increased the bout-initiation rate. Changes in the distribution of IRTs over time showed that responses during extinction were also emitted in bouts, and that the decrease in response rate was primarily due to progressively longer intervals between bouts. Taken together, these results suggest that changes in the refractory period indicate motoric effects, whereas selective alterations in bout initiation rate indicate incentive-motivational effects. These findings support the use of response-bout analyses to identify the influence of pharmacological manipulations on processes underlying operant performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-38
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of the experimental analysis of behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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