Mind

Variable-Ratio Reinforcement

“Skinner found that the type of reinforcement which produces the slowest rate of extinction (i.e., people will go on repeating the behavior for the longest time without reinforcement) is variable-ratio reinforcement. The type of reinforcement which has the quickest rate of extinction is continuous reinforcement.”

B.F. Skinner | Operant Conditioning | Simply Psychology

A further important contribution made by Skinner (1951) is the notion of behavior shaping through successive approximation. Skinner argues that the principles of operant conditioning can be used to produce extremely complex behavior if rewards and punishments are delivered in such a way as to encourage move an organism closer and closer to the desired behavior each time.

 

(A) Continuous Reinforcement

An animal/human is positively reinforced every time a specific behavior occurs, e.g., every time a lever is pressed a pellet is delivered, and then food delivery is shut off.

  • Response rate is SLOW
  • Extinction rate is FAST

(B) Fixed Ratio Reinforcement

Behavior is reinforced only after the behavior occurs a specified number of times. e.g., one reinforcement is given after every so many correct responses, e.g., after every 5th response. For example, a child receives a star for every five words spelled correctly.

  • Response rate is FAST
  • Extinction rate is MEDIUM

(C) Fixed Interval Reinforcement

One reinforcement is given after a fixed time interval providing at least one correct response has been made. An example is being paid by the hour. Another example would be every 15 minutes (half hour, hour, etc.) a pellet is delivered (providing at least one lever press has been made) then food delivery is shut off.

  • Response rate is MEDIUM
  • Extinction rate is MEDIUM

(D) Variable Ratio Reinforcement

Behavior is reinforced after an unpredictable number of times. For examples gambling or fishing.

  • Response rate is FAST
  • Extinction rate is SLOW (very hard to extinguish because of unpredictability)

(E) Variable Interval Reinforcement

Providing one correct response has been made, reinforcement is given after an unpredictable amount of time has passed, e.g., on average every 5 minutes. An example is a self-employed person being paid at unpredictable times.

  • Response rate is FAST
  • Extinction rate is SLOW

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