Behavior Bits

April 2021

The only constant is change.....

Ain't that the truth? Especially for a year of living amid a pandemic, this has been a revolving door of change for students, staff, and parents/guardians. Such is the life of behavior work as well. I am constantly amid a transition from one plan to another, a fading of a certain aspect of a program, a check on the data to determine whether a skill has been mastered, and having thoughtful conversations about future planning and current concerns. Change is inevitable, and usually a good thing. My favorite form of change is when it is a sign that independence is being facilitated. Yet, it requires focus, can be uncomfortable to initiate, and is quite mentally exhausting. Ready? Let's dive into some change!


Speaking of change: anyone implementing a schedule of reinforcement may want to know that a key aspect is knowing when and how to fade reinforcement. Research has shown us that the schedule of reinforcement which maintains a behavioral change is an intermittent or partial schedule. An example? Slot machines! Gambling is an extreme to be sure, but it exemplifies the intermittent reinforcement schedule's power well.

You may be wondering why, then, many behavior plans or goals note to efficiently reinforce the target behavior by providing reinforcement every time it occurs. This is where the previous conversation about change is exemplified. When we are learning a new behavior or skill, we need much more encouragement than when we have it in our repertoire.

So: when we are learning, we need reinforcement after each instance of the target behavior....but to maintain that change once the skill is learned, it is important to switch over to a more natural (i.e. partial/intermittent) schedule of reinforcement. Easy, right? Now go out there and conquer the world!

Behavior Bits April 2021

Fixed or Interval: Geek Speak

Fixed-ratio schedule: Reinforces a response only after a specified number of responses. e.g., piecework pay.

Variable-ratio schedule: Reinforces a response after an unpredictable number of responses. This is hard to extinguish because of the unpredictability. (e.g., behaviors like gambling, fishing.)

Fixed-interval schedule: Reinforces a response only after a specified time has elapsed. (e.g., preparing for an exam only when the exam draws close.)

Variable-interval schedule: Reinforces a response at unpredictable time intervals, which produces slow, steady responses. (e.g., pop quiz.)