Fixed Interval: Examples & Definition

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  • 0:03 Fixed Interval Defined
  • 1:15 Everyday Examples
  • 3:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chris Clause
In this lesson, you will learn to define fixed interval schedules of reinforcement. Take a look at some examples of fixed interval, and test your knowledge on the subject by taking a quiz.

Fixed Interval Defined

In the world of psychology, fixed interval refers to a schedule of reinforcement used within operant conditioning. You might remember that operant conditioning is a type of associative learning in which a person's behavior changes according to that behavior's consequences. Fixed interval schedules of reinforcement are but one of four traditional ways in which this type of associative learning occurs.

So, how do fixed interval schedules of reinforcement work? Let's take a closer look at the two words that comprise the concept itself. First, what is meant by fixed? In this context, it means that a behavior is being reinforced every single time some reinforcement occurs, such as a reward. If reinforcement only happens some of the time, then it is not fixed. The second component, interval, refers to the passage of time. So, a fixed interval schedule of reinforcement happens when some sort of reinforcement occurs after a set amount of time and impacts behavior.

Everyday Examples

It doesn't matter what your age is, where you live or what you do for a living - fixed interval schedules impact us all every day. Let's look at an example that involves perhaps the most common reinforcer: money. Say you're a salaried employee, and you receive your paycheck biweekly. The behavior of showing up for work when you're scheduled is reinforced with a paycheck every two weeks. Knowing when your paycheck is coming should make it much more likely that you will continue to show up to work.

Let's look at another example. Say you get a new pet fish. You get home from school every day at 4:00 p.m., and the first thing you do is feed your new fish. After a few days of this, you might start noticing that your fish starts swimming toward the top of his tank everyday around 4:00. Does the fish know that it's 4:00? Not exactly, but thanks to operant conditioning and fixed intervals of reinforcement, he learns that after a set amount of time, if he hangs out around the top of the tank, he gets to eat.

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