Schedules of Reinforcement and Relationships

    A schedule of reinforcement is defined as the criteria that must be met in order to obtain a reinforcement. In order to understand this, it is important to note that reinforcement, as defined through a psychological lens, is an action that influences a subject's future behavior due to a certain stimulus or set of stimuli. There are various types of schedules of reinforcement which include continuous, intermittent, duration, response-rate, noncontingent, conjunctive, and adjusting reinforcement. In this post, I will be expounding upon one of the four intermittent schedules of reinforcement that particularly caught my attention: the variable ratio (VR) schedule.

    According to the text, on a variable ratio (VR) schedule, “reinforcement is contingent upon a varying, unpredictable number of responses” (Powell et al., 2017). This means that the reinforcement, or the action that influences a subject’s future behavior, is dependent on an erratic, undetermined variable. Examples of this in the real world include sports betting, gambling, the lottery, etc. where, due to the unpredictable nature of the activity, there is a high rate of behavior in attempts to heighten the possibility of a reward. What I found particularly interesting is how this can translate into the development of a toxic relationship. In the beginning stages of a relationship, also known as the “honeymoon phase” oftentimes both parties shower each other with love, creating dense positive reinforcement. As time goes on, however, this reinforcement may become intermittent, leading to an imbalance. In such a case, there may be one partner, the victimizer, that is now providing the positive reinforcement extremely intermittently, causing the other partner, the victim, to work extra hard in order to obtain said lacking positive reinforcement. Furthermore, this may then reinforce the victimizer to continue to ignore the victim because they are now receiving even more attention from them (the victim). Ultimately relationships like these may result in one of several ways: either the couple stays in this volatile, toxic, roller-coaster of a relationship, or the relationship eventually collapses, and so on.

    In today’s age of instant gratification, the effects of a variable ratio schedule can be seen almost everywhere, but perhaps most evidently in relationships. Oftentimes it is seen how relationships that were once 50/50 have now become one sided leading to insecurities and trust issues. Despite this, the “victim” tends to stay because of the erratic, undetermined positive reinforcement that is eventually provided by the victimizer. After having read the chapter, I am fascinated that there is actually a science behind this and that it is more than just emotion. The video attached below provides a more concise explanation on the topic of variable ratio schedules which really aided in my comprehension of it.

Powell, R. A., Honey, P. L., & Symbaluk, D. G. (2017). Introduction to Learning and Behavior (5th

    ed.). Cengage Learning.