Intermittent Reinforcement: What is it and how does it affect people?


Our behaviors are conditioned by environmental circumstances . We tend to repeat behaviors that are rewarded or encouraged and avoid those that involve penalties and punishments. These positive or negative contingencies have great influence on our attitudes. One of the biggest is intermittent reinforcement . This mediates addictions, relationships, jobs, or consumption habits. Receiving rewards inconsistently has certain effects on the brain.

Intermittent reinforcement encourages repetition of certain behaviors to maintain them in the long run . If the behavior is controlled by environmental circumstances, then it is possible to modify the behavior with the application of reinforcements or punishments. Reinforcers cause a person to repeat and maintain a certain behavior. They can be of two types:

  • Positive: Offering a treat or reward after the behavior
  • Negatives: Elimination of an aversive or unpleasant response after the behavior occurs (do not make those who have made the best sales go to work on Friday afternoon)

In the case of a punishment , the goal is to decrease or eliminate a specific behavior. Positive punishment occurs with an unpleasant stimulus (the mother scolding the child for bad behavior). A negative punishment occurs when a pleasant stimulus is eliminated (deducting points from the license for a traffic violation).

The reinforcements can have different applications. Continuous reinforcement is when you get rewarded every time you do the desired behavior. Intermittent reinforcement occurs when we receive the reward only a few times after the behavior has been performed, but not others. Intermittent reinforcement is expressed occasionally and inconsistently, which makes it appealing to us. On the other hand, continuous reinforcement loses interest because it is obtained every time a certain behavior is adopted. In fact, if you are praised every day, that praise will lose its value. Intermittently it builds anticipation, fascination, and a certain level of anxiety. Here are some examples of daily intermittent reinforcers :

  • bonuses and incentives from companies to workers
  • slot machines that can make us win, but that’s not always the case
  • social networks that show captivating videos among many others not appreciated by the user
  • use in the education of minors and in personal relationships also between adults

Intermittent reinforcement can be very helpful, when done right and mindfully, but it can also cause addictions and emotional dependence . It is important to understand what dynamics drive us to move and the reason for our behavior. Here we can understand what is more productive or not for us.

  • Intermittent reinforcement: what is it and how does it affect us? (


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