What’s in a Click? The Efficacy of Conditioned Reinforcement in Applied Animal Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Nicole Pfaller-Sadovsky*, Camilo Hurtado-Parrado PhD, Daniela Cardillo, Lucia G. Medina, Susan G. Friedman PhD

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Abstract

A conditioned reinforcer is a stimulus that acquired its effectiveness to increase and maintain a target behavior on the basis of the individual’s history—e.g., pairings with other reinforcers. This systematic review synthesized findings on conditioned reinforcement in the applied animal training field. Thirty-four studies were included in the review and six studies were eligible for a meta-analysis on the effectiveness of behavioral interventions that implemented conditioned reinforcement (e.g., clicks, spoken word, or whistles paired with food). The majority of studies investigated conditioned reinforcement with dogs (47%, n = 16) and horses (30%, n = 10) implementing click–food pairings. All other species (cats, cattle, fish, goats, and monkeys) were equally distributed across types of conditioned (e.g., clicker or spoken word) and unconditioned reinforcers (e.g., food, water, or tactile). A meta-analysis on the effectiveness of conditioned reinforcement in behavioral interventions found a medium summary effect size (Tau-U 0.77; CI95% = [0.53, 0.89]), when comparing baseline, where no training was done, and treatment levels. Moderators of conditioned reinforcement effectiveness were species (e.g., horses) and research design (e.g., multiple-baseline designs). The small number of intervention-focused studies available limits the present findings and highlights the need for more systematic research into the effectiveness of conditioned reinforcement across species.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1757
Pages (from-to)1
Number of pages31
JournalAnimals
Volume10
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

This article belongs to the Special Issue Learning Theory Applied to the Welfare of Animals.

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