The Partial Reinforcement Effect - By Mitchell Yoka

Partial Reinforcement

Partial reinforcement occurs when reinforcement will only occur sometimes or periodically, not all the time. An example of this would be like catching a football. you'll sometimes catch it and feel good about it, so you'll keep doing it. But if you aren't doing well, you'll give yourself motivation to keep going, but eventually, if you still don't do well, you'll give up, leading to extinction, stopping a behavior because it is no longer being reinforced.

The Schedules of Reinforcement

There are four different types of schedules, each having different patterns and rates of responding.

  1. Fixed-Ratio (FR): Reinforcement occurs after a fixed number of responses.
  2. Variable-Ratio (VR): Reinforcement occurs after an average number of responses.
  3. Fixed-Interval (FI): Reinforcement occurs when the first response occurs after a preset time interval has passed.
  4. Variable-Interval (VI): Reinforcement occurs when the first response occurs after an average amount of time has passed.

Some Examples Include:


Variable-Ratio: The average win ratio of a slot machine could be 10 to 1, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee you will likely win on every 10th try.
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Who Discovered Partial Reinforcement?

It was none other than B. F. Skinner. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1904 and after he had gotten his doctorate from Harvard he began to study human behavior. He had created the Skinner box, which allowed him and others to study how the animal reacts to it's environment, usually rats or pigeons. Rats usually had a bar to press on, while pigeons usually pecked a disk. One day, while studying some rats behavior in a Skinner box, he was running low on food pellets and, rather than reinforcing every bar press, he instead tried spacing his rewards periodically to each response. He found out that this actually increased the rate of bar pressing.

Works Cited