Scaling reward value with demand curves versus preference tests
In Experiment 1, six capuchins lifted a weight during a 10-min session to receive a food piece. Across conditions, the weight was increased across six different amounts for three different food types. The number of food pieces obtained as a function of the weight lifted was fitted by a demand equation that is hypothesized to quantify food value. For most subjects, this analysis showed that the three food types differed little in value. In Experiment 2, these monkeys were given pairwise choices among these food types. In 13 of 18 comparisons, preferences at least equaled a 3-to-1 ratio; in seven comparisons, preference was absolute. There was no relation between values based on degree of preference versus values based on the demand equation. When choices in the present report were compared to similar data with these subjects from another study, between-study lability in preference emerged. This outcome contrasts with the finding in demand analysis that test-retest reliability is high. We attribute the unreliability and extreme assignment of value based on preference tests to high substitutability between foods. We suggest use of demand analysis instead of preference tests for studies that compare the values of different foods. A better strategy might be to avoid manipulating value by using different foods. Where possible, value should be manipulated by varying amounts of a single food type because, over an appropriate range, more food is consistently more valuable than less. Such an approach would be immune to problems in between-food substitutability.