Tests of behavioral-economic assessments of relative reinforcer efficacy: Economic substitutes

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


This experiment was conducted to test predictions of two behavioral-economic approaches to quantifying relative reinforcer efficacy. According to the first of these approaches, characteristics of averaged normalized demand curves may be used to predict progressive-ratio breakpoints and peak responding. The second approach, the demand analysis, rejects the concept of reinforcer efficacy, arguing instead that traditional measures of relative reinforcer efficacy (breakpoint, peak response rate, and choice) correspond to specific characteristics of non-normalized demand curves. The accuracy of these predictions was evaluated in rats' responding for food or fat: two reinforcers known to function as partial substitutes, Consistent with the first approach, predicted peak normalized response output values (O) obtained under single-schedule conditions ordinally predicted progressive-ratio breakpoints and peak responding. Predictions of the demand analysis had mixed success. Pmax and Omax were significantly correlated with PR breakpoints and peak responding (respectively) when fat, but not when food, was the reinforcer. Relative consumption of food and fat under single schedules of reinforcement did not predict preference better than chance. The normalized demand analysis is supplemented with the economic concept of diminishing marginal utility, to predict preference shifts across the range of food and fat prices examined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-240
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2007


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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