G’day Web Surfer,
I am a professor of Psychology in the Psychology Department at Mount Allison University. My area of expertise is learning. Broadly defined, learning refers to a change in behavior as a function of experience. Theories of learning refer to the ways in which experience affects behavior. Two major learning processes are classical and operant conditioning. In classical conditioning, our nervous system discerns neutral sensory events that predict biologically relevant events. Due to this predictive association, our nervous system begins to respond in the presence of these neutral sensory events in preparation for the associated biologically relevant event. Our behavior changes so that we now respond in the presence of the neutral sensory event. In operant conditioning, the consequences that arise from our behavior in a particular context change our behavior. If we come to be less likely to do that behavior in that context in the future, then the effect of the consequence was punishment. If, on the other hand, we are more likely to do that behavior in that context in the future, then the effect of the consequence was reinforcement. The Law of Effect, as formulated by Thorndike, is that we look to the effect of a consequence on behavior to define it as reinforcement or punishment – and nothing else.
My background is in this latter process. I had the privilege to study under very accomplished mentors during my graduate training. First, I was fortunate to work with Dr. W. David Pierce, a behavior analyst, in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta. Dr. Pierce is best known for an animal model and biobehavioral theory of activity anorexia. Activity anorexia occurs when animals experience a reduction in food intake that leads to a loss of body weight; subsequently, the loss in body weight enhances physical activity, which further decreases appetite and food intake, depletes body reserves and drives physical activity upward. The culmination of this feedback cycle is starvation and death of the animal.
My research under Dr. Pierce’s supervision involved a comparison of choice behavior by humans and pigeons. To assess choice behavior in humans, a human operant conditioning chamber was constructed in the Centre for Experimental Sociology in the Henry Tory Marshall building. The choice behavior of pigeons was assessed in standard operant conditioning chambers in the Department of Psychology in the Biological Sciences building. Training and testing conditions for humans and pigeons were as similar as possible. Dr. Edmund Fantino’s delay reduction theory of conditioned reinforcement was assessed using concurrent-chain schedules of reinforcement. Results showed that the choice behavior of pigeons was consistent with the prediction of delay reduction theory that response allocation would reflect the relative strength of stimulus lights in the concurrent chains as conditioned reinforcers. In contrast, human choice behavior was systematic, but did not conform to delay reduction theory. Instead, the performance of the human participants was assumed to reflect maximization.
Although setting up and completing the experiment was a daunting task, the novelty of this approach to directly comparing the responding of humans and non-humans was instrumental in my acceptance to the graduate program in Psychology at Harvard University and the opportunity to train under the supervision of Dr. Richard Herrnstein and Dr. Gene Heyman. Dr. Richard Herrnstein is best known within the field of the experimental analysis of behavior for having formulated the “matching law”. This law of choice describes how allocation of choices between alternatives matches the relative rate of payoffs from those alternatives. Dr. Gene Heyman is best known for developing a theory of addiction as a disorder of choice. My time at Harvard under the supervision of these mentors was the period of greatest intellectual development in my academic career.
In the Pigeon Lab, I was given opportunity to work closely with a group of highly motivated graduate students and use the available resources to conduct numerous experiments guided by the intellectual expertise of Dr. Richard Herrnstein, Dr. Gene Heyman, and Dr. Will Vaughan. My Ph. D. Dissertation was a collection of three experiments investigating the reinforcing properties of wheel running in rats using the hyperbolic matching law equation formulated by Dr. Richard Herrnstein. This was the origin of the research program that I continue to pursue to this day in conjunction with the hard working, highly motivated, intellectually capable Psychology undergraduate students at Mount Allison University. It has been, and continues to be, a pleasure to work with and guide the intellectual development of these students as did my mentors for me.
Publications (past 10 years):
Belke, T.W. and Zelcer, C. E. (2022). Is increased operant wheel running on a fixed-ratio schedule due to adjunctive or reinforced behavior? Learning and Motivation, 101853.
Belke, T.W., Pierce, W.D., and Poloz, J. (2021) Preference for sucrose following wheel running: Effect of immediacy of reinforcement. The Psychological Record, 1-8.
Belke, T.W., Pierce, W.D., and Sexton, C.A. (2021). Effects of pre-operant running and sucrose concentration on operant wheel running on a fixed interval schedule of reinforcement. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 115, 510-539.
Belke, T.W., Pierce, W.D., Sexton, C.A., and Zahl, M.H. (2020). Local constraint of the contingent response controls rate of wheel-running and lever-pressing on an interval schedule of wheel-running reinforcement. Learning and Motivation, 69, 101611.
Belke, T.W., Pierce, W.D., and Sexton, C.A. (2019). Effect of amphetamine dose on wheel running functioning as reinforcement or operant behavior on a multiple schedule of reinforcement. Behavioural Pharmacology, 30, 588-595.
Belke, T.W., Pierce, W.D., and Welsh, T.M. (2018). Automatic reinforcement from operant wheel-running undermines temporal control by fixed-interval schedules of reinforcement. Behavioural Processes, 157, 91-101.
Pierce, W.D., Belke, T.W., and Harris, A.F. (2018). Instrumental lever pressing for wheel running is a bitonic function of wheel revolutions per reinforcement: Effects of constraint and automatic reinforcement. Learning and Motivation, 64, 9-17.
Belke, T.W., Pierce, W.D., and Cathcart, I.E.A. (2017). Duration of wheel-running reinforcement: Effects on reinforcement value and motivation in free-feeding and food-deprived rats. Learning and Motivation, 60, 1-9.
Belke, T.W., Pierce, W.D., Fisher, A.C. and LeCocq, M.R. (2017). Reinforcement of a reinforcing behavior: Effect of sucrose concentration on wheel-running rate. Learning and Motivation, 59, 47-54.
Belke, T.W., Pierce, W.D., Harris A.F., Leblanc, M.M., and Clennett, V.L. (2017). Resistance to extinction of lever-pressing rates maintained by different wheel-running reinforcement durations. Learning and Motivation, 57, 36-47
Belke, T. W., and Pierce, W. D. (2016). Evidence for positive, but not negative, behavioral contrast with wheel-running reinforcement on multiple variable-ratio schedules. Behavioural Processes, 133, 37-43.
Belke, T. W., Pierce, W. D, Magee, J. H. G. L., and Laffoley, E. V. (2016). Motivational shift: Effects of unrestricted and restricted feeding on wheel running as an operant and reinforcing consequence on a multiple schedule of reinforcement. Learning and Motivation, 55, 1-12.
Belke, T. W., and Pierce, W. D. (2016). Wheel-running reinforcement in free-feeding and food-deprived rats. Behavioural Processes, 124, 1-9.
Belke, T. W., Mann, S. and Pierce, W. D. (2015). Effects of extinction on wheel running and lever pressing as operant behaviors within a multiple schedule of reinforcement. Learning and Motivation, 52, 36-47.
Belke, T. W., and Pierce, W. D. (2015). Effect of sucrose availability on wheel running as an operant and as a reinforcing consequence on a multiple schedule: Additive effects of extrinsic and automatic reinforcement. Behavioural Processes, 116, 1-7.
Belke, T. W., Kervin, E. K., Kervin, L. B., Craig, B. P., Ferdinand, J. C. H., and Henry, J. L. (2014). Local response rates on variable-ratio schedules of wheel-running reinforcement are relatively invariant compared to sucrose. Psychological Record, 64, 361-369.
Belke, T. W., and Pierce, W. D. (2014). Effect of sucrose availability and pre-running on the intrinsic value of wheel running as an operant and a reinforcing consequence. Behavioural Processes, 103, 35-42.
Belke, T. W. and LeCours, D. N. (2013). Rats can discriminate different durations of wheel running. Psychological Record, 63, 501-512.
1993 Ph.D. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (Psychology)
1991 M.A. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (Psychology)
1988 M.A. University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (Sociology)
1983 B.A. University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (Psychology)
1980 B.Sc. University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (General Science -Geology)
Psychology 2121 Behavior Modification
Description: Basic concepts and theories involved in the psychology of learning, the analysis of behaviour and behavioural assessment will be discussed in the context of real life problems. Applications of behaviour modification and behaviour therapy will be discussed in terms of problems associated with parenting, development of social skills, education, disabilities, health and other issues. (Format: Lecture 3 Hours)
Psychology 3111 Conditioning
Description: This lecture and laboratory course examines the role of associative processes in both human and non-human learning. Topics will include habituation, classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning. (Format: Lecture 3 Hours, Laboratory 3 Hours)
Psychology 3151 Drugs and Behavior
Description: This course explores principles of pharmacology, neural transmission, behavioural assessment of drug effects, theories of addiction, tolerance, and dependence as a conceptual introduction to behavioural pharmacology. It discusses specific psychopharmacologic issues pertaining to alcohol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, opiates, psychomotor stimulants, caffeine, tobacco, hallucinogens, and antipsychotic drugs. (Format: Lecture 3 Hours)
Psychology 3991 (Psychological) Explanations of Criminal Behavior
Description: This course will highlight and explore theories of crime causation at the level of individuals. Why are some individuals more likely to break the law than others? What process or circumstances lead individuals to reach the point of violating the law? What processes or circumstances prevent individuals from breaking the law? What policies do these theories recommend to address the cause of crime? Do empirical assessments of the identified causal factor support or fail to support the theory? We begin with an overview of the early classical and positivist foundations of criminological thought and then move on to describe more recent theories such as rational choice theory, social learning theory, control theory, self-control theory, labeling theory, etc.
Physical inactivity is considered a major public health issue in that inactivity contributes significantly to risk of death from heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Addressing this issue requires increased participation in exercise by the general population. While this goal is easy to state, it has proven difficult to accomplish. Learning more about the rewarding properties of physical activity and factors that influence motivation to engage in physical activity may prove useful with respect to accomplishing this goal. My research program addresses this issue by studying the conditions that influence motivation to run in an animal model. In my lab, rats work, by pressing a lever, to obtain an opportunity to run in a wheel. The more motivated the rats are to run or the more rewarding running is for the rats, the harder they tend to work for that opportunity to run. The properties of running as a reward and the conditions that influence its rewarding value are not was well known as those for food and water. How do they differ from, and in what ways are they similar to, the rewarding value of food and water? In my research program, I will explore how the value of running may change with duration that a rat is given to run, how extrinsic incentives for running may affect the intrinsic rewarding effects of running, and if running when rats are not weight controlled is similar to that when rats are weight controlled.
FELLOWSHIPS AND AWARDS
1993 - 1994 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Post-doctoral Fellowship $29,000 per year
1990 - 1992 Sir James Lougheed Award of Distinction $15,000 per year
1988 - 1990 Harvard University Scholarship $22,000 per year
2013 – 2018 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Discovery Grant ($23,861 per year)
2008 - 2013 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Discovery Grant ($19,236 per year)
2003 - 2008 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Discovery Grant ($19,300 per year)
1999 - 2003 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Discovery Grant ($16,800 per year)
1995 - 1999 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Discovery Grant ($13,800 per year)
1994 - 1995 Internal Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Grant ($1,860)
Board of Editors of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (2002-2005, 2008-2010)
Consulting Editor for the Learning & Behavior (2003-2006)