Local analysis of behaviour in the adjusting-delay task for assessing choice of delayed reinforcement

Rudolf N. Cardinal, Nathaniel Daw, Trevor W. Robbins, Barry J. Everitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The adjusting-delay task introduced by Mazur (Quantitative analyses of behavior: V. The effect of delay and of intervening events on reinforcement value, 1987, pp. 55-73) has been widely used to study choice of delayed reinforcers. This paradigm involves repeated choice between one reinforcer delivered after a fixed delay and another, typically larger, reinforcer delivered after a variable delay; the variable delay is adjusted depending on the subject's choice until an equilibrium point is reached at which the subject is indifferent between the two alternatives. Rats were trained on a version of this task and their behaviour was examined to determine the nature of their sensitivity to the adjusting delay; these analyses included the use of a cross-correlational technique. No clear evidence of sensitivity to the adjusting delay was found. A number of decision rules, some sensitive to the adjusting delay and some not, were simulated and it was observed that some effects usually supposed to be a consequence of delay sensitivity could be generated by delay-independent processes, such as a consistent, unchanging relative preference between the alternatives. Consequently, the use of explicit analysis of delay sensitivity is advocated in future research on delayed reinforcement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)617-634
Number of pages18
JournalNeural Networks
Issue number4-6
StatePublished - 2002


  • Adjusting-delay task
  • Cross-correlation
  • Delay of reinforcement
  • Impulsivity
  • Lever pressing
  • Rats

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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