The consequences of surrendering a degree of freedom to the participant in a contingency assessment task
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Many studies of contingency judgments have used a task in which, on each trial, the participant is free either to respond or not to respond, and an outcome may, or may not, be presented. Typically, the experimenter specifies a nominal value for the contingency between responding and outcome, but the actual values of a variety of variables experienced by a particular participant depend on that participant's frequency of responding. The results of computer simulations of various strategies for implementing the contingency manipulation, and the results of an experiment, indicate that the same nominal contingency value will lead to considerable variability in the actual contingency experienced by participants. Moreover, nominal contingency manipulations are confounded with the probability that the subject experiences an outcome. While researchers might be aware of these issues, not enough attention has been paid to their potential impact.
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