Partial reinforcement in behavior modification entails different ways to change behavior and how it displays after a certain amount of time. Since behaviors change depending on the types of reinforcers, the response rate and time frame also affect modification. Partial reinforcement or intermittent reinforcement is a type of scheduling reinforcer. Scheduling reinforcers alter the behavior in increments of time until the desired outcome manifests. While there are four types of reinforcement schedules, the change in action depends on the correlation between the reinforcer and the response rate.


Fixed-interval, variable-interval, fixed-ratio and variable-ratio schedules are the different types of partial reinforcement scheduling, which are dependent on response rate and time lapse.

Four Types of Reinforcement Schedules

Whether the schedules of reinforcement predict the outcome of behavior, a time frame usually indicates a difference in response rate. Partial reinforcement offers a more powerful impact on behavior change than continuous reinforcement. While continuous reinforcers change behavior in a predictable, consistent manner, partial reinforcers modify behavior in various ways.

A fixed-interval schedule uses a certain amount of time increments to see a change. Hence, the behavior rate changes according to a slow pace of response with steady increases between time. For example, an hourly worker knows compensation occurs after a certain time lapse between payments. A variable-interval schedule uses a variety of amounts of time to observe behavior modification. Since time intervals change, the response rate is moderately steady.

So, the individual doesn't know when the reinforcer will emerge. For example, a fisher may go fishing at the same location at the same time, but the fish may or may not show up. A fixed-ratio schedule uses a certain amount of proper responses for the reinforcer to surface. In this case, the response ratio stays the same until a reinforcer appears. For instance, a dog must press a button five times to receive a treat as a reinforcer.

A variable-ratio schedule utilizes a variety of responses to see a behavior modification. Usually, the reactions are random and unpredictable. For example, an individual monitors the social media likes from time to time until the individual sees a change in the number of likes. Ratio schedules of reinforcement have a higher response rate for its predictability. Meanwhile, variable schedules are highly unpredictable since an individual doesn't know when a reinforcer shows up.

Differences Between the Partial Reinforcements

The time frame differences between schedules of reinforcement predict the response rate and intensity of behavior modification. While positive and negative reinforcers aim to observe a change in practice, the impact of the reinforcers depicts how the behavior changes. These continuous reinforcers usually manifest a straightforward outcome not dependent on behavior modification but the reward. Nevertheless, the response correlates with consequences.

Disciplinary action, sports training and animal behavior often follow continuous reinforcement. On the other hand, partial reinforcement uses a schedule of reinforcement during various time frames to change a behavior. The different types of scheduling reinforcers produce predictable or unpredictable outcomes. Although various response rates exist, partial reinforcement shows slow acquisition and tolerance to extinction reinforcement.

Meaning of Partial Reinforcement Schedules

An extinction reinforcement uses the Applied Behavioral Analysis or ABA for special needs individuals explicitly. While many behaviors change with extinction reinforcement, the goal is to use reinforcers to produce a desirable response. Using a pattern of extinction reinforcement consistently may not generate the desired outcome. A combination of partial reinforcement scheduling and other behavior patterns might establish a connection between modification and result. Partial reinforcement is a valuable tool in behavior changes. More importantly, partial reinforcers alter behavior by time frame acquisition, the intensity of the response rate and manifestation rate of the behavior.

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