“If you want a different result you have to choose a different behaviour.” – Dr. Phil
In behavioral psychology, reinforcement is a method of increasing the likelihood of a given behavior. Broadly, there are two types of reinforcement: positive and negative. In this article I will give you a look into these two branches of operant conditioning and how different reinforcement to behaviour ratios have different results.
Positive vs. Negative Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is the additional stimulus that encourages a certain behavior. An example of this type of operant conditioning is a parent rewards a child for completing his chores with a piece of candy. The child starts associating chores with candy, and as a result, he does his chores more reliably and enthusiastically in the hopes of earning more.
On the other hand, negative reinforcement is commonly misunderstood to mean punishment. However, in this case, the word “negative” is not necessarily referring to something bad, but often refers to the removal of a stimulus. With negative reinforcement, the stimulus is unpleasant, thereby encouraging a behavior in its absence. An example of negative reinforcement is an overprotective parent, who perhaps without realizing it, pays less attention to his child’s activities when she receives good grades. The child begins to associate her academic success with the parent’s looser grip, and she continues to do well in order to enjoy her reprieve.
Skinner’s Operant Conditioning: The Different Reinforcement Schedules
B.F. Skinner, one of the most influential behavioral psychologists, became famous through his reinforcement experiments on rats. One of his important discoveries is that the schedule of reinforcement has a profound impact on the success of the reinforcement in eliciting the desired behaviour.
Reinforcement occurs each time the desired behavior occurs. Typically, this is a good schedule to start with because it creates a strong association between the desired behavior and the reward. It generally involves the most amount of effort and resources, and it is most vulnerable to extinction or the cessation of the learned behavior).
Partial reinforcement involves having less frequent and consistent reinforcement and Skinner used four different partial reinforcement method.
Fixed ratio reinforcement: Based on repetitions of desired behaviour
Fixed Ratio Reinforcement is reinforcement is offered when a behavior is performed a certain number of times. An example this would be use rewarding yourself with a chocolate bar after every fifth workout you do.
2. Fixed interval reinforcement: Based on time intervals
Reinforcement occurs at fixed time intervals, however only if the desired behavior is done at least once during the interval. An example of this is hourly compensation, regardless of the amount of work completed.
3. Variable ratio reinforcement: Based on Variability on average
This reinforcement works on averages. Such as after the fifth time, then after the fifteenth time, for an average of about 10 times). Interestingly, variable ratio reinforcement generally produces the desired behavior which is most resistant to extinction.
An example of this type of is a jackpot at a slot machine may occur at a fixed probability, but the number of lever pulls required will vary each time.
4. Variable Interval Reinforcement: Based on Random Intervals
Variable Ratio Reinforcement occurs after random amounts of time (but within a specific average), provided the desired behavior has happened at least once during that time.
An example of this is a fisherman who gets may get a bite, on average, every hour, but the individual bites will occur at different times.
How to Get your Desired Behaviour using Operant Conditioning
When introducing a new behavior, it may be best to start off with a continuous schedule , the gradually over time shifting into one of the partial reinforcement schedules. The advantage of partial schedules of reinforcement is that they can prevent the reward from losing value too quickly. When the reinforcer is presented too often and too easily, it may lose its reinforcing power. Therefore, it is a good idea to gradually wean off the reinforcer until, ideally, the desired behavior is performed without it.
Advice on How to Make Operant Conditioning Work For You
If you decide to use positive reinforcement in your life, with you kids or at work, there are a few key points you should remember:
- The value of the reward is subjective. You should pick a reward that you know the is desirable.
- The value of the reward can lessen with time, so do not give it too freely. You may want to consider a backup reward.
- You should always plan ahead. Work towards weaning off of the reward. Remember, the goal is to eventually perform the desired behavior without needing a reward.
- Never underestimate the value of praise. In many instances, it can trump any tangible reward.
The Power of Reward
If you are interested in seeing the power of reinforcement on motivation, check out this TEDtalk by Dan Ariely on what makes us feel good about our work:
McLeod, S. (n.d.). Skinner - Operant Conditioning. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html