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Richard J. Herrnstein (May 20 1930September 13 1994) was a prominent researcher in comparative psychology who did pioneering work on pigeon intelligence employing the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and formulated the "Matching Law" in the 1960s, a breakthrough in understanding how reinforcement and behavior are linked. He was the Edgar Pierce Professor of psychology at Harvard University and worked with B. F. Skinner in the Harvard pigeon lab, where he did research on choice and other topics in behavioral psychology. Herrnstein became more broadly known for his work on the correlation between race and intelligence, first in the 1970s, then with Charles Murray, discussed in their controversial best-selling 1994 book, The Bell Curve. Herrnstein died shortly before the book was released.

Herrnstein described the behavior of hyperbolic discounting, in which people will choose smaller payoffs sooner instead of larger payoffs later. He developed a type of non-parametric statistics that he dubbed "ρ". (See also: Mann-Whitney U, intelligence testing.)

The Matching Law

Perhaps Herrnstein's most notable accomplishment in this field was the formulation of the matching law. According to the matching law, choices are distributed according to rates of reinforcement for making those choices. An instance of this for two choices can be stated mathematically as


where R1 and R2 are rates of response for two alternative responses, and r1 and r2 are rates of reinforcement for the same two responses. Behavior conforming to this law is 'matching,' and explanations of matching and departures from matching constitute a large and important part of the literature on behavioral choice.

Selected bibliography

  • A Source Book in the History of Psychology, Edited by Richard J. Herrnstein, Edwin G. Boring, Harvard 1965 ISBN 0-674-82410-5
  • I.Q. in the Meritocracy, Richard J. Herrnstein, Atlantic Monthly Press 1973
  • Crime and Human Nature: The Definitive Study of the Causes of Crime, James Q. Wilson, Richard J. Herrnstein, The Free Press 1985 ISBN 0684852667
  • The Bell Curve, Richard J. Herrnstein, Charles Murray, 1994 ISBN 0029146739
  • The Matching Law: Papers in Psychology and Economics by Richard J. Herrnstein, Edited by Howard Rachlin, David I. Laibson, Harvard 1997 ISBN 0-674-06459-3

External links

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