B-5: Define and provide examples of schedules of reinforcement ©

Target Terms: Fixed Ratio, Fixed Interval, Variable Ratio, Variable Interval 

Fixed Ratio (FR)

Definition: A schedule of reinforcement where reinforcement is provided after a fixed number of responses occur. 

Example in everyday context: You provide yourself with a handful of M&Ms after reading five pages of your textbook (FR 5). 

Example in clinical context: A client earns TV time after folding ten clothing items (FR 10). 

Example in supervision/consultation context: A supervisor provides reinforcement in the form of specific praise statements to their supervisee when they correctly define seven ABA terms (FR 7).  

Why it matters: When using a fixed ratio schedule, the person who is receiving reinforcement may become aware of how much work they have to do in order to get access to reinforcement. Behavior analysts should consider the size of the ratio and rate of responding when using a fixed ratio schedule. 

Fixed Interval (FI)

Definition: A schedule of reinforcement where reinforcement is provided after a fixed amount of time elapses. 

Example in everyday context: You provide yourself with a handful of potato chips after you study for 45 minutes (FI 45). 

Example in clinical context: A client receives access to a preferred item after engaging in a non-preferred task for two minutes (FI 2). 

Example in supervision/consultation context: A classroom of students earns recess after sitting quietly for five minutes during read aloud (FI 5). 

Why it matters: When using a fixed interval schedule the person who is receiving reinforcement may begin to understand how long they have to work in order to get reinforcement. Behavior analysts should consider the size of the ratio and rate of responding when using a fixed interval schedule.

Variable Ratio (VR) 

Definition: A schedule of reinforcement where reinforcement is provided variably after an average amount of responses are emitted. 

Example in everyday context: You spend about 120 minutes studying each night. You find something interesting or new after reading two pages, five, pages, two pages, three pages, four pages and so on.  On average, you contact reinforcement (interesting/new information) after reading three pages (VR 3). 

Example in clinical context: A patient is working hard in their occupational therapy session using a beading activity to work on dexterity. The OT provides reinforcement for every third, second, fourth, first, first, and second response (putting a bead on the string). On average, the OT is providing reinforcement for every second response (VR 2). 

Example in supervision/consultation context: A supervisee is conducting an intensive teaching session with a student under the observation of their supervisor. The supervisee delivers reinforcement after the student responds correctly every second time, fourth time, first time, and third time. On average, the supervisor calculates that the supervisee provides reinforcement to the student for every two responses (VR 2). 

Why it matters: Variable ratio schedules are the strongest basic schedule of reinforcement, since the learner cannot identify how may responses they have to emit before contacting reinforcement. This increases motivation for the learner to continue to engage in the behavior they need to in order to earn reinforcement. (“Keep them guessing” for steady responding!)

Variable Interval (VI) 

Definition: A schedule of reinforcement where reinforcement is provided variably after an average amount of time has elapsed.  

Example in everyday context: You are studying for approximately 180 minutes per night. You provide yourself with reinforcement for every 10 minutes, 12 minutes,12 minutes, and 13 minutes spent studying. On average, you provide yourself with reinforcement every 11 minutes (VI 11). 

Example in clinical context: A client is sitting and watching TV without engaging in any problem behavior. A staff member provides reinforcement to the client after every three minutes, two minutes, five minutes, and three minutes. On average, the staff member is providing the client with reinforcement every three minutes (VI 3). 

Example in supervision/consultation context: A supervisor is observing their supervisees quiz each other on their SAFMEDS. The supervisor provides reinforcement in the form of bonus points on the quiz every five minutes, four minutes, six minutes and eight minutes they spend studying their SAFEMEDS. On average, the supervisor reinforces the supervisees every five minutes (VI 5). 

Why it matters: Variable interval schedules are the second strongest basic schedule of reinforcement since the learner cannot identify how much time has to elapse before they will experience reinforcement. This increases motivation for the learner to continue to engage in the behavior in order to earn reinforcement.  

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