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Fixed-Ratio and a Reinforcement Schedule: Examples & Definition

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  • 0:01 Fixed-Ratio Schedules…
  • 1:58 Everyday Examples
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chris Clause
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.

Everyday Examples

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.

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