Intermittent Reinforcement

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Intermittent Reinforcement is a term that originated from B.F. Skinner’s theories on Operant Conditioning and Behaviorism. Intermittent reinforcement is given only part of the time a subject gives the desired response. It is often used instead of continuous reinforcement once the desired response is conditioned by continuous reinforcement and the reinforcer wants to reduce or eliminate the number of reinforcements necessary to encourage the intended response. How does this relate to today’s world?(rewrite)

Many people refer to their Blackberry as a Crackberry, and with good reason. It is obvious that many people are addicted to their Smartphone or electronic devices that keep them in touch with their friends, work, and family. Many people often check their phone the first thing in the morning and don’t put it down until they go to bed.


Psychologists would label this addiction to email or information as ‘operant conditioning’; that is our behavior is shaped by its consequences; how what we do depends on the rewards and punishments of what we did last time. This topic is the heart of behaviorism, that school of thought which dominated psychology for most of the last century. (rewrite) It was discovered that if you want to train an animal to do something, consistently rewarding that behavior isn’t the best way. The most effective training regime is one where you give the animal a reward only sometimes, and then only at random intervals. (rewrite) Checking email is a behavior that has variable interval reinforcement. Sometimes, but not every time, the behavior produces a reward.

Occasionally checking your email will get you one of these rewards. And because you can never tell which time you check will produce the reward, checking all the time is reinforced, even if most of the time checking your email turns out to have been pointless. You still check because you never know when the reward will come. (rewrite)


Variable Ratio Reinforcement

Designers can use a suite of techniques to make their games more compelling. Some you may have heard of, such as variable ratio reinforcement (similar to slot machines, where players receive rewards on a random schedule) and avoidance (where players are punished for not playing enough, as seen in Farmville's withering of crops.) Others, like the compulsion loop, rely on providing players with a never-ending sequence of new content and goals. [2]



  1. Intermittent Reinforcement - Are You Addicted to Email and Smartphones? Snyder, Daniel. Published: Sep 1, 2010. Accessed 22 Aug 2011.