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Schedules of Reinforcement

Operant conditioning is a learning process in which new behaviors occurred and modified through with consequences. Reinforcing a behavior can increase the chance to occur again in the future while punishing a behavior decreases the chance that it will be repeated.

One thing that is often overlooked in operant conditioning is schedules of reinforcement- they are an important component of the learning process. When and how often we reinforce behaviour that can have a strong impact on the strength and rate of the response.

Types of Reinforcement Schedules

The forms of reinforcement schedules are referred to as continuous reinforcement and partial reinforcement.

Continuous Reinforcement

In continuous schedules, reinforcement occurs every single time after the desired behavior. Due to the behavior reinforced every time, the association is easy to make and learning happens quickly. However, this also means that extinction happens quickly after reinforcement is not been done.

Candy machines are one of the examples of continuous reinforcement because every time we put money in (behaviour), we receive candy in return as positive reinforcement.

However, if a candy machine were to fail to provide candy twice at the same time, we would likely stop using the machine. We have learned to expect our behaviour to be reinforced every time it is performed.

Partial (Intermittent) Reinforcement Schedules

Partial schedules only reinforce the wanted behaviour occasionally rather than all the time. This leads to slower learning since it is initially more difficult to make the connection between behaviour and reinforcement.

For Example - slot machines at clubs operate on partial schedules. They provide money after an unpredictable number of plays (behaviour). Hence, slot players are likely to continuously play slots in the hopes that they will gain money in the next round.

The following…

  1. Fixed Interval Schedule

In operant conditioning, a fixed interval schedule is when reinforcement is given to the desired response after a certain (predictable) amount of time has passed.

For Example - a fixed interval schedule would be a teacher giving students a weekly quiz every Monday.

Over the weekend, there is suddenly a rush of studying for the quiz. On Monday, the students take the quiz and are reinforced for studying to get good grades (positive reinforcement; negative reinforcement: do not fail the test).

For the next few days, they are likely to relax after completing the stressful experience until the next quiz date draws too near for them to ignore

  1. Variable Interval Schedule

In operant conditioning, a variable interval schedule is when the reinforcement is provided after a random (unpredictable) duration of time has passed and following a specific behavior being performed.

For Example - A pigeon in Skinner’s box has to peck a bar in order to get a food pellet. It is given a food pellet after varying time duration ranging from 2-5 minutes.

  1. Fixed Ratio Schedule

In operant conditioning, a fixed-ratio schedule reinforces behavior after a specified correct response.

For Example - A fixed ratio schedule would be a makeup artist being paid Rs500/- after every 10 makeup they did. After doing 10 make-up, they are reinforced with Rs500/-. They are likely to take a short break immediately after this reinforcement before they begin producing it again.

  1. Variable Ratio Schedule

A variable ratio schedule is a schedule of reinforcement where behavior is reinforced after a random number of responses.

For Example - A fixed ratio schedule would be a child being given chocolate for every 3-10 pages of a book they read.

As they are given chocolate after reading 5 pages, then 3 pages, then 7 pages, then 8 pages, etc. The unpredictable reinforcement motivates them to keep reading the pages, even if they are not immediately reinforced after reading one page.

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