Believe it or not, your animal can get bored by being reinforced all the time and by the same reinforcements. I’m not saying this is the case for all animals. I’m just saying this can happen. In some cases a variable ratio schedule should be used. What exactly is a variable ratio schedule? Basically, not every behavior gets reinforced every time. Or, if it does, you vary how you reinforce it. This actually strengthens the behavior more, than simply feeding the animal every time it does something.
Gambling or playing the lotto are perfect examples of human based variable ratio schedules. Even though when gambling, you don’t get rewarded in each play, people still play. There’s that potential of a big win that keeps people playing. The pay outs differ as well. Sometimes you win BIG and sometimes you win small. If you won at every game you ever play, you’d get bored. It’s no longer a game and it’s no longer fun. I’ve run into a good handful of intelligent people who love playing “Words with Friends”, but often don’t because they can’t find people challenging enough to play against them.
So when working with an animal, you can picture yourself as a slot machine. Each behavior an animal completes, is a game play. It’s up to you how often and how much you want to pay out to the animal. I want to be clear that this method may not work with all animals. There are individuals that never get bored of getting a food treat every time it does something. There are animals out there, however, that need more than consistent food treats to keep them interested. If you notice a decline in the performance of a behavior or your animal’s attention drifting, this could be because it is getting bored. It might be time to put the animal on a variable ratio schedule. Don’t reinforce it after every behavior performed. Or at the very least, reinforce it differently. Instead of a food treat, use a minor secondary reinforcer, a “good boy/girl” or a pat on the head. The key is not to go over the top in reinforcement, because there can be too much of a good thing.
“Realistically, reinforcing a behavior every single time it occurs can be difficult and requires a great deal of attention and resources. Partial schedules not only tend to lead to behaviors that are more resistant to extinction, they also reduce the risk that the subject will become satiated. If the reinforcer being used is no longer desired or rewarding, the subject may stop performing the desired behavior. For example, imagine that you are trying to teach a dog to sit. If you are using food as a reward, the dog might stop performing the action once he is full. In such instances, something like praise or attention might be a more effective reinforcer.”
*Additional info can be found here.
© Semi Charmed Life
This post is part of the A to Z Challenge