Assessing human performance during contingency changes and extinction tests in reversal-learning tasks

Document Type


Publication Date



Serial reversal-learning procedures are simple preparations that allow for a better understanding of how animals learn about environmental changes, including flexibly shifting responding to adapt to changing reinforcement contingencies. The present study examined serial reversal learning with humans by arranging both midsession and variable contingency reversals across two experiments. We also examined the effects of extinction by adding nonreinforced trials at the end of later sessions and provided the first evaluation of effects of win-stay/lose-shift versus counting strategies on accuracy and response latency of humans' reversal-learning performance. In each experiment, responding tracked contingency reversals, primarily with participants using either win-stay/lose-shift or counting strategies. Introducing variable reversal points in the second experiment resulted in near-exclusive win-stay/lose-shift responding among participants and eliminated counting of trials. Each experiment also revealed an immediate shift from S2 to S1 after experiencing extinction during the initial test trial, indicating resurgence of the initial response through a win-stay/lose-shift response pattern. Therefore, the present study replicates and extends prior findings of a win-stay/lose shift response pattern in situations of greater uncertainty. These findings suggest that differences in environmental certainty induce qualitatively different decision-making strategies.

Publication Source (Journal or Book title)