Publication Details

Interpretation(s) of essential value in operant demand

Gilroy, Shawn P. (2023)

The operant demand framework has achieved high levels of adoption as an approach to quantify how various ecological factors influence choice. A central goal of the framework proposed by Hursh and Silberburg (2008) was to isolate the “essential value” of reinforcers—namely, their effects on behavior given various contextual factors. The effect of reinforcers on behavior is a phenomenon that is expected to vary as a function of reinforcer magnitude/dosage (i.e., units of reinforcement), price (i.e., schedule requirements), the intensity of demand (i.e., consumption in free operant conditions), the availability of reinforcers (i.e., supply, presence of alternatives), and the individual's current and historical context. This technical report provides a historical summary of the concept, describes the quantitative basis for essential value in the framework of Hursh and Silberburg (2008), reviews prior attempts to extract a generalizable index of essential value, and presents a newer formulation using exact solution that provides a more succinct and durable index. Proofs and solutions are provided to clarify the bases for novel and existing representations of essential value. Recommendations are provided to improve the precision and accuracy of behavioral economic metrics as well as support consensus regarding their interpretation in the operant demand framework.
Gilroy, Shawn P. (2023). Interpretation(s) of essential value in operant demand. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 119(3). 554-564.