Saturday, July 1, 2017

Intermittent Reinforcement

Let's contemplate a bit of psychology: intermittent reinforcement. The psychology glossary at describes it thus:

Intermittent Reinforcement is a conditioning schedule in which a reward or punishment (reinforcement) is not administered every time the desired response is performed. This differs from continuous reinforcement which is when the organism receives the reinforcement every time the desired response is performed. For example, on a continuous reinforcement schedule a mouse who pulls a lever would receive food (reinforcement) every single time it pulled the lever. On an intermittent reinforcement schedule the mouse would only receive food every few times (it is typically random and unpredictable). There is an increased likelihood the desired behavior will continue with intermittent reinforcement conditioning and the behavior lasts longer than continuous reinforcement. is useful to elucidate why behavior persists with intermittent reinforcement:

If a response is intermittently reinforced, then the animal grows accustomed to periods of no reinforcement. If an experimenter tries to extinguish the behavior by cutting off all reinforcement, the animal is less likely to notice that extinction is taking place, or more likely to persist with the behavior in the expectation that reinforcement may resume again as it has in the past. The result is that animals with a history of intermittent reinforcement do not stop a behavior as quickly as animals with a history of continuous reinforcement. Instead, they show resistance to extinction.


This explains so much. 

Some days, we are merely laboratory animals, trying and trying in the hope we will receive again the things we crave, even though we are not guaranteed any consistency or success.

(I cannot expound further; some things are best left unsaid. Yet even to understand is helpful.)

I joke on occasion that I was a rodent in a former life. Sometimes, though, I suspect there may be more than a grain of truth about it. 

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