Effects of Aversive Noise on Human Self-Control for Positive Reinforcement
Humans pressed two buttons for points that were exchangeable for money. Pressing one of the buttons, the impulsive choice, produced 2 points over 4 sec. Pressing the other button, the self-controlled choice, produced 10 points over 4 sec after a delay of 16 sec. In Experiment 1,12 subjects made 30 choices while the computer produced aversive noise and 12 subjects made 30 choices in the absence of noise. A wait period occurred after Trials 15 and 30 which prevented impulsive choices from reducing the length of the experiment. Subjects who were exposed to the noise made fewer self-control choices than those who were not exposed. Experiment 2 was a within-subject replication of Experiment 1, in which subjects made 30 choices in the presence of noise and 30 choices in the absence of noise counterbalanced across subjects. Subjects who first made choices in the absence of noise developed strong self-control preference and maintained that preference in the presence of noise. Self-control was attenuated for subjects who first made choices during noise and showed little, if any, increase in self-control preference when choices were made in the absence of noise. The results parallel those found in “learned helplessness” studies. The results suggest that contextual considerations, beyond traditional stimulus control issues need to be taken into consideration for a more complete understanding of human behaviors such as “self-control.” Practical implications are discussed.
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