Everyday Examples of Reinforcement Schedules

The influence of reinforcement schedules can be observed in many everyday situations. imagine, for example, the behavior of a person who had just thrown the switch of a lamp and discovered that it did not work. What will he or she do to remedy the situation? Some reasonable efforts might include turning the light switch on and off a couple of times, checking whether the plug was properly inserted into the electrical outlet, or even looking for some other possible causes to explain the failure (e.g., a defective bulb, switch, or fuse). But one would not expect the person to turn the light switch on and off again repeatedly in a vain effort to make it work. This latter option is unlikely because of the sort of reinforcement schedule controlling the "switch turning" behavior. The habit of turning the light switch on was acquired on a continuous schedule of reinforcement. in the past, the lamp had responded as expected on nearly every occasion the switch had been thrown. Under such conditions of reinforcement, a single failure of the light to work as expected disconfirms the entire pattern of reinforcement, resulting in its rapid extinction.

Similarly, if one were to insert a quarter into a pay phone and received neither a dial tone nor the coin in return, one would probably not continue to insert additional coins hoping that it might finally work. Both these examples illustrate the primary weakness of continuous reinforcement—the sensitivity of such schedules to the effects of extinction. Of course, extinction in these situations is only temporary. Both of these habits quickly recover as soon as they are reinforced again, that is, when the lamp is repaired or after a working pay phone is found.

A similar effect can be seen when dogs are trained on a CRF schedule. They, too, learn to "expect" the presentation of a reinforcer for each behavior they emit. if this pattern of continuous reinforcement is discontinued, dogs will refuse to emit the behavior. However, once the accustomed reinforcement schedule is reinstated, their willingness to perform will rapidly recover to previous levels. The foregoing observations suggest that dogs do not learn a habit per se, but rather a set of instrumental contingencies consisting of available outcomes, rules for their acquisition, correlated expectancies (given that they follow the rules), identification of the stimulus situations in which the rules apply, and an overall confirmation or disconfirmation of the learning set based on prior experience.

Comparing the foregoing example of switching on a lamp with that of starting a car reveals several important differences between continuous and intermittent schedules of reinforcement. While my car usually starts on the first attempt, i have learned to expect that occasionally it may take two or three additional efforts before starting. On some oc casions, though, when it is extremely cold or wet outside, the car may require much more sustained effort and prompting to get started. Under these reinforcement contingencies, a warm sunny day has become a discriminative stimulus (SD) under which circumstances my car usually starts easily on the first attempt. A cold dreary day, on the other hand, has become an SD predictive of difficulty starting the car but usually promises success for sustained repeated effort. Under the conditions of warm and dry weather, I will be more likely to quit trying after only a few efforts and consider various mechanical failures instead. However, under weather conditions involving cold and heavy rain, I am more inclined to try many more times before giving up. The prevailing SDs in the first case cause me to match my efforts to predictions based on a CRF schedule, whereas in the second case my behavior is matched to predictions based on an intermittent VR schedule. As the second case demonstrates, behavior under the control of intermittent scheduling tends to persist even under adverse reinforcement contingencies.

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  • ambessa fikru
    Is a cold day a Discriminative stimulus?
    7 years ago

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