The “What?” of Schedules of Reinforcement

April 29, 2013

23114212_s.jpgDo you want to learn how to increase appropriate behaviors you have taught, or do you want your child to continue engaging in a behavior you have already taught? Using different schedules of reinforcement can help you achieve these goals! We will cover the What, When, Why, and How of schedules of reinforcement in these upcoming blogs.

It’s important to remember that an event can only be called a reinforcer if it follows behavior and then increases and/or maintains behavior in the future. For example if Jane says “Please” and you provide her with praise (e.x. “That is very good saying please”), and Jane says “please” more in the future, the praise was a reinforcer! The schedule (e.g., how often) for providing the praise statements will help increase and maintain that behavior.

There are two types of schedules that you can use 1) Continuous schedules of reinforcement and 2) Intermittent schedules of reinforcement.

Continuous Reinforcement 

In continuous schedules of reinforcement, you reinforce every instance the behavior occurs. For example, every time Jane says “please” you provide praise by saying “That’s very good saying please.” Continuous schedules are used to teach new behaviors; when you are starting to teach a new behavior, you want to provide reinforcement frequently to increase the amount of times the individual engages in the behavior.

Intermittent Schedules of Reinforcement 

In intermittent schedules of reinforcement, reinforcement is not provided for every instance of the behavior; (e.g. “good job” is not given every time Jane says “please”). Intermittent schedules are used to maintain behaviors that you have already taught. Once you have taught Jane to say “please,” you will use an intermittent schedule so Jane continues to say “please” in the future. (More detailed information will be provided in upcoming blogs about why and how to use intermittent reinforcement.)

There are four types of intermittent schedules that you can use in order to maintain the behavior; 1) fixed ratio, 2) fixed interval, 3) variable ratio, and 4) variable interval.

Fixed Ratio: 

In a fixed ratio (FR) schedule, a specific or “fixed” number of behaviors must occur before you provide reinforcement. Example: You provide Jane with praise (“good job”) every fifth time Jane says “please.” Reinforcing “please” every fifth time means saying “please” is on an FR 5 schedule. 

Fixed Interval: In a fixed interval (FI) schedule, the first behavior is reinforced after a specific or “fixed” amount of time has passed. Example: You provide Jane with praise (“good job”) the first time she says “please” after 60 minutes have passed. Reinforcing “please” after 60 minutes have passed means “please” is on an FI 60 schedule.

Variable Ratio: In a variable ratio (VR) schedule, an average number of behaviors must occur before reinforcement is provided. There is no fixed number of behaviors that must occur; the behaviors can vary around an average. Example: You provide Jane with praise (“good job”) about every 3, 4, or 5 times Jane says “please.: Reinforcing “please” every 3/4/5 times means that “please” is on a VR-4 schedule.

Variable Interval: In variable interval (VI) schedule, the first behavior is reinforced after an average amount of time has passed. Example: You provide Jane praise (“good job”) the first time she says “please” after about every 55, 60 or 65 minutes. Reinforcing “please” after an average of 60 minutes have passed means “please” is on a VI 60 schedule.

This is a just a short summary of what schedules of reinforcement are. Stay tuned for the upcoming blogs which will talk about when and how these schedules should be implemented.

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