100 Things You Should Know About People: #80 — Behavior Can Be Shaped

Picture of a slot machineIf you studied psychology years ago, you may remember BF Skinner and his work during the 20th century on operant conditioning. Skinner studied whether behavior increased or decreased based on how often, and in what manner, you provide a “reinforcement” (reward).

What the casinos know — Let’s say you put a rat in a cage with a bar. If the rat presses the bar he gets a food pellet. The food pellet is called the reinforcement. But what if you set it up so that the rat does not get the food pellet every time he presses the bar. Skinner tested out various scenarios, and found that how often you give the food pellet, and whether you give it based on time or bar presses, affected how often the rat would press the bar. Here’s a synopsis of the different schedules:

Interval Schedules – You provide a food pellet after a certain interval of time has passed, for example, 5 minutes. The first time the rat presses the bar after 5 minutes is up, then he gets a food pellet.

Ratio Schedules – Instead of basing the reinforcement on time, instead you base it on the number of bar presses. For example, you provide a food pellet after every 10 bar presses. Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #80 — Behavior Can Be Shaped”