In this lesson, you will learn to define fixed-ratio schedules of reinforcement. You'll take a look at some examples of fixed-ratio schedules and test your knowledge on the subject by taking a quiz.
Fixed-Ratio Schedules of Reinforcement
The term fixed-ratio schedule of reinforcement refers to a schedule of reinforcement that relies on the principles of operant conditioning. You probably remember that in psychology, operant conditioning is a type of associative learning in which a person's behavior changes according to that behavior's consequences. Fixed-ratio schedules of reinforcement are but one of four traditional ways in which this type of associative learning occurs.
So, we know that it has to do with operant conditioning, but how do fixed-ratio schedules of reinforcement work? Let's look a little closer at the words that comprise the concept. What does 'fixed' mean? When it comes to operant conditioning, fixed means that a behavior is being reinforced on a consistent schedule. In this context, schedule refers to how often the reinforcement is provided. Reinforcement is kind of like earning a reward for doing something. If a certain behavior is exhibited, then a reinforcer is presented. The concept of reinforcement says that the reinforcer should provide motivation for the behavior to be repeated.
So, a fixed schedule means that the reinforcement is made available every time a specific behavior takes place, or it can mean it is presented every fifth time, twenty-fifth time, thirtieth time etc. The type of schedule is not what matters. What matters is that the schedule must remain constant. If the reinforcement is introduced randomly or inconsistently, then the schedule is not fixed; it is a completely different schedule of reinforcement altogether.
Okay. So, what about that other word, 'ratio'? What does that mean? In the world of operant conditioning, ratio refers to a measurable behavioral response. So, let's put those two separate words back together and see what we get. A fixed-ratio schedule of reinforcement refers to the fact that some sort of environmental reinforcement is occurring after a set number of behaviors have occurred. Don't worry if you're confused. We'll look at a few examples that will help.
Most people enjoy getting paid, so the first example will focus on money. People get paid for work in all types of different ways. You can probably think of several different ways off the top of your head. Chances are that you had not really thought about them in terms of schedules of reinforcement. The most obvious example of this is piecework. Some people get paid on a salary or hourly basis, but for those who get paid based on the number of finished products they create, they are being paid on a fixed-ratio schedule of reinforcement.
Let's say that you are a carpenter, and you own your own cabinet business. You spend a lot of time, energy, and money designing, building, and installing the cabinets that you create. Most people are not going to want to pay you until you deliver and install a finished product. Every time you deliver and install a finished set of cabinets, you get paid. This is a pretty simple example, but the behavior (making cabinets) is reinforced (getting paid) each time it is performed.
Another example of a fixed-ratio schedule of reinforcement in everyday life has to do with the next best thing to money: food! Pizza restaurants are always giving away punch cards or allowing people to collect points for purchases that they make. After you collect a certain number of points or purchase a certain number of pizzas, you earn a free pizza. This is nothing more than a fixed-ratio schedule of reinforcement. You engage in a specific behavior (buying pizza) a certain amount of times; you receive reinforcement (free pizza).
A final example should be relatable to anyone who is familiar with the challenges of getting kids to do what you want them to do. Sometimes teaching kids to use the toilet, or brush their teeth, or take a bath can be a tough task for parents to tackle. Fixed-ratio schedules of reinforcement have been shown to be effective in these situations as well.
Let's consider potty training. Initially, little Johnny gets a tootsie roll every time he uses the toilet. Assuming he likes tootsie rolls, it won't be long before he figures out that if he engages in a certain behavior (using the toilet), then he gets a reinforcement (tootsie roll). After he starts to get better at using the toilet, the fixed-ratio schedule of reinforcement can be changed to, say, every five times he uses the toilet he gets a tootsie roll. There's no wrong way to do it as long as the reinforcement is impacting the desired behavior.
In summary, fixed-ratio schedules of reinforcement focus on reinforcing a specific behavior after that behavior has been demonstrated a set number of times. As we have seen, fixed-ratio schedules of reinforcement can be used in a variety of ways, for a variety of reasons. The examples that were provided are all everyday common occurrences but aren't always thought of in the context of being a fixed-ratio schedule of reinforcement. Understanding fixed-ratio schedules of reinforcement provides an opportunity to better understand and influence the world around us.
Closely examine the content of this lesson in order to reach these goals:
- Describe the focus of a fixed-ratio schedule of reinforcement
- Analyze the function and goal of a fixed-ratio reinforcement schedule
- Consider real-life examples