Tests of behavioral-economic assessments of relative reinforcer efficacy II: Economic complements

Gregory J. Madden, John R. Smethells, Eric E. Ewan, Steven R. Hursh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


This experiment was conducted to test the predictions of two behavioral-economic approaches to quantifying relative reinforcer efficacy. The normalized demand analysis suggests that characteristics of averaged normalized demand curves may be used to predict progressive-ratio breakpoints and peak responding. By contrast, the demand analysis holds that traditional measures of relative reinforcer efficacy (breakpoint, peak response rate, and choice) correspond to specific characteristics of nonnormalized demand curves. The accuracy of these predictions was evaluated in rats' responding for food or water: two reinforcers known to function as complements. Consistent with the first approach, predicted peak normalized response output values obtained under single-schedule conditions ordinally predicted progressive-ratio breakpoints and peak response rates obtained in a separate condition. Combining the minimum-needs hypothesis with the normalized demand analysis helped to interpret prior findings, but was less useful in predicting choice between food and water-two strongly complementary reinforcers. Predictions of the demand analysis had mixed success. Peak response outputs predicted from the non-normalized water demand curves were significantly correlated with obtained peak responding for water in a separate condition, but none of the remaining three predicted correlations was statistically significant. The demand analysis fared better in predicting choice-relative consumption of food and water under single schedules of reinforcement predicted preference under concurrent schedules significantly better than chance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)355-367
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2007


  • Behavioral economics
  • Complement
  • Lever press
  • Minimum-needs
  • Rat
  • Relative reinforcer efficacy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Psychology(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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