Intertrial interval duration and impulsive choice

John R. Smethells, Mark P. Reilly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Discrete-trial intertemporal choice procedures assess impulsive choice or preference for a smaller, immediate reinforcer over a larger, delayed one. The effect of the delay associated with the larger reinforcer has been the focus of much research. It, however, is not the only delay in the context of discrete-trial procedures. Often separating each choice trial is an intertrial interval (ITI) that maintains equal trial spacing of the two alternatives. The removal of this ITI has been shown to increase impulsive choice, perhaps because choosing the small alternative results in another choice trial immediately following reinforcer delivery. Impulsive choice has not been affected when the ITI duration is manipulated in conditions that equate the trial presentation rate across the two alternatives. These null results could have been due to floor effects and/or an inadequate range of ITI durations. To address these possibilities, three experiments were conducted to determine how changes in ITI duration affected impulsive choice in rats and pigeons. All three experiments found that preference for the large delayed alternative decreased (i.e., impulsive choice increased) when the ITI was shortened. Satiation was not a likely explanation since preference for the large alternative at the 0-s delay was not affected by ITI duration. Trial spacing, like other temporal properties of choice situations, is an important variable underlying the occurrence of impulsive choice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-165
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Blackout
  • Delay discounting
  • Impulsive choice
  • Intertrial interval
  • Pigeon
  • Rat


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