Duration of wheel-running reinforcement: Effects on reinforcement value and motivation in free-feeding and food-deprived rats
Abstract Ten (pair housed) female Long-Evans rats were exposed to 5s, 30s, and 90s wheel-running reinforcement durations on a response-initiated variable interval 20s schedule as food deprivation was manipulated. On free feeding, never-deprived rats showed low wheel running and lever-pressing rates with long postreinforcement pauses (PRPs) for the 5-s reinforcement duration. Subsequently, when food deprived (Deprived 1), rats showed no effect of reinforcement duration on all measures. Under a second deprived condition (Deprived 2) with the rats maintained in single cages, there was no effect of housing (single vs. paired). When data from both deprivation assessments (Deprived 1 and Deprived 2) were combined, rats showed lower wheel running and overall lever-pressing rates with longer pauses on the 90-s duration compared to 30s and 5s bouts of wheel activity. The pattern of results challenges a reinforcement value interpretation, but is consistent with shifts in the motivational basis of wheel running. On free feeding, never-deprived rats were intrinsically motivated to run on wheels and operant lever-pressing was maintained at moderate rates by the automatic reinforcement of wheel running, except at the short reinforcement duration (5s). When food deprived, motivation became food-related and rats showed high rates of lever pressing even at the shortest duration. The weak effects under initial deprivation (Deprived 1) raise questions about equivalence between wheel-running reinforcement duration and reinforcement magnitude using food reinforcement. Highlights Wheel-running reinforcement duration effect on operant responding. Prior results with deprived rats show shorter duration of higher value. Current results with never deprived rats show shorter duration of lower value. Possible explanation – motivational basis of wheel running differs. Wheel-running reinforcement duration ≠ reinforcement magnitude.
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