Intermittent positive reinforcement

What is intermittent reinforcement? | Definition from TechTarget


  • Ivy Wigmore

Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals, a method that has been determined to yield the greatest effort from the subject. The subject does not receive a reward each time they perform a desired behavior or according to any regular schedule but at seemingly random intervals.

Reinforcement theory is an area of behavioral psychology that explores the ways that people and other animals respond to rewards delivered according to various schedules. Rewards may be delivered continuously, at regular or irregular intervals. In rat studies, researchers found that the way to keep the subjects working longest was to reinforce the behavior at unpredictable intervals, rather than regularly.

Intermittent reinforcement and other principles of reinforcement theory are applied in areas of technology and business including human resource management, marketing and machine learning. In designing mobile apps and social media, intermittent reinforcement might take the form of rewards delivered on a schedule that seems random to the users but is designed to keep them active for longer. For example, "likes" might be reported when an algorithm has determined that the user is likely to leave Instagram. Through its algorithms, Facebook can detect when a teenager is likely to feel insecure and deliver a confidence boost.

Online gambling and internet addictions exhibit the same principle: The individual receives just enough rewards (which might be in the form of wins or entertainment) at sufficiently sustainable intervals, to encourage them to continue.

See also: brain hijacking

This was last updated in May 2018

Continue Reading About intermittent reinforcement
  • The most powerful motivator on the planet -- intermittent reinforcement
  • The power of rewards and why we seek them out
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What is Intermittent Reinforcement in Relationships

In This Article

You have been fighting with your partner, and the nasty fight continues. Then one day suddenly you get a pleasant surprise or a sweet talk. Everything seems to have become normal again. You think that it is the last time. So, what is an intermittent reinforcement relationship?

But, as time passes, the same events go on a repeated cycle. It seems you have what we call intermittent reinforcement relationships.

It may look healthy and a stable relationship at first, but that is not true. Your partner is using the occasional rewards as a powerful tool of manipulation. This emotional manipulation in intermittent reinforcement relationships can be very harmful to anyone.

But aren’t fights and arguments regular in any relationship? Well, normal relationships and intermittent reinforcement relationships are different.

So, if you and your partner fight a lot and get some sweet talk from them, it is time to rethink.

Let’s take a leap of faith and read about intermittent reinforcement relationships to check out everything you need to stay away from.

What is an intermittent reinforcement relationship?

The intermittent reinforcement relationships are a type of psychological abuse. In these relationships, the receiver or the victim receives regular cruel, callous, and abusive treatment with a few occasional and sudden displays of extreme affection and reward giving instances.

In intermittent reinforcement relationships, the abuser unpredictably awards some occasional and sudden affection. This often causes the victim to become a needy lover.

The despair and anxiety caused by the emotional (or physical abuse) cause the victim to become desperate for some sign of love and affection.

The sudden display of affection is called intermittent reward. This Causes them to become filled with joy. They start to believe that what they are getting is enough and ideal.

On top of that, the continuous reinforcement also causes the victim to grow highly dependent on their abuser and continue the relationship despite being detrimental to them.

As per research, nearly 12% to 20% of young adults face somewhat emotionally abusive romantic relationships. A significant part of these people is involved in intermittent reinforcement relationships.

Example of intermittent reinforcement relationships

There are different types of examples of intermittent reinforcement in different instances.

First, consider a gambler who plays games. The gambler can encounter regular losses repeatedly. But, they become excited once in a while when they win. The winnings can be small or big.

But, the sudden win causes them to become excited. The gambler thinks they are having a great day, which is not valid.

Now, consider a relationship between two adults, A and B. B often emotionally abuses in cases uses physical abuse) on A. But B gradually makes it up with rewards, expensive gifts, and luxury vacations.

Here, A thinks that B is a simple hot-headed person who loves A truly. In some cases, individuals like A may also think of the abuse as a sign of extreme love.

Here is another example. Two people, C and D, are in a relationship. C is very short-tempered and often fights with D to demand something. D eventually gives in and hands away what C wants.

With time, C will start to throw tantrums at minor things to ensure they get what they want. It is one of the common negative reinforcement examples in adult relationships.

4 categories of intermittent reinforcement

As per researchers, intermittent relationships can be of four types, depending on the reward occurrence frequency. These are-

1. Fixed interval schedule(FI) relationships

In this case, the abuser awards the victim the reinforcement after a set or fixed interval period from the last reinforcement. It is also known as partial intermittent reinforcement in relationships.

The abuser may wait for a set time to offer the affection. This causes the victim to display slower reactions after displaying reinforcement behavior. In the presence of such reinforcement in a relationship, the victim becomes more tolerant of the abuse as the time passes.

2. Variable Interval schedule relationships(VI)

In such relationships, the reinforcement reward comes after a variable of time from the previous one. The victim can receive the reinforcement without any set time interval.

Such cases increase the anticipation of the reward and affection. Hence, the victim often becomes addicted to the reinforcement and tolerates the emotional abuse from their partner to get spontaneous affection or rewards.

3. Fixed ratio schedule (FR) relationships

In fixed ratio schedule relationships, the abuser or other person delivers an affectionate display after several responses.

In such cases, the victim continues to produce higher rates of response till they are given the reward. The behavior pauses, and the victim continues the same pattern after the following abuse incident.

4. Variable Ratio Schedule (VR) relationships

The reinforcement is awarded after a variable number of responses in the variable ratio schedule relationships.

The abuser may offer affection faster or delay the affection at any time. This, in turn, causes the victim to display a high and steady rate or response upon receiving the reinforcement.

Why is intermittent reinforcement so dangerous in relationships?

The truth is that intermittent reinforcement relationships are not good at any cost. It can cause the victim to suffer from different issues as well.

You may think that positive intermittent reinforcement is good. Hence, a little fight and reinforcement are all right. But, in most cases, positive reinforcement psychology is not used. The victim uses intermittent negative reinforcement to continue the abuse.

The dangers of such relationships include-

1. It causes the victim to develop somewhat a Stockholm syndrome

The victim often develops Stockholm syndrome. They understand and realize that their partner is abusive and manipulative. But, they strangely feel attracted to their partner and feel excited with just a simple, affectionate display.

2. You feel addicted to their abuse

The constant manipulation causes the victim to develop a need for abuse. In other words, they get addicted to the abuse and crave more.

You may think, why am I hot and cold in relationships,  but the answer lies in your partner’s behavior.

3. You indulge in self-blame

Victims of intermittent reinforcement relationships often indulge in self-blame games. They feel that their actions have caused their partner’s erratic behavior. They loathe themselves. It can cause a lot of issues.

4. Causes depression and anxiety

Intermittent relationships can cause severe depression and anxiety due to stressful situations. The victims often develop mental health problems, including clinical depression, bipolar disorder, etc., due to constant abuse.

Related Reading: How to Tell if You Have Anxiety: 10 Signs, Symptoms and Cure 

5. May cause addiction

Many victims resort to an addiction to get relief from the abuse involved. They can start to consume alcohol, drugs, etc., to alleviate their mental anxiety, resulting in addiction.

Why would someone use intermittent reinforcement?

Why do people use intermittent reinforcement in the relationship? The answer lies in the reinforcement in a relationship.

There can be multiple causes for such erratic and unjustified behavior, including-

1. The psychology of trauma bonding

In the case of intermittent reinforcement relationships, the occasional handout of affection increases the victim’s response. It causes the victim to seek the approval of their partner.

The victims think their partner will return to the honeymoon phase of good behavior if they behave well.

In other words, the abuser uses the traumatic experience to create a strong bond with the victim to prevent them from leaving.

Know more about trauma bonding:

Related Reading: What Is Trauma Bonding? How to Recognize and Break Traumatic Bonds

2. Some abusers use this out of fear

Many people fear that their partner may leave them if they let them loose. They create a fearsome aura to ensure their partner is caged and is forced to live with them.

In such cases, fear causes violent and abusive behavior.

3. As a way to control their partner

Those who are controlling and manipulative use it the most. Such selfish people want to control every step of their partner.

They use the technique of trauma bonding to keep their relationship in their control. For such people,  violence is necessary to ensure the victim is always timid and is unable to protest.

4. History of abuse

In some cases, someone who has experienced similar abuses with their parents uses intermittent reinforcement techniques in their own lives. They use the same manipulative method to control their partner.

How do you respond to intermittent reinforcement?

The truth is there is a way to deal with intermittent reinforcement relationships. You do not need to be abused and settle for the crumbs.

As a person, you deserve a lot of love and care minus the violence and abuse.

If you feel that you are in a relationship with the similar patterns, take steps like-

  • Hold your boundaries even when it is uncomfortable
  • Understand that there is no “last time”. Instead, your partner will continue to manipulate you for their own sake
  • Decide how much you are willing to lose
  • Learn to love and protect yourself
  • If you feel threatened, leave the relationship. The abuser may use emotional manipulation to prevent you from leaving. Do not indulge
  • Talk to therapies to get emotional stability


Intermittent reinforcement relationships are abusive relationships. The victims often take the occasional affectionate rewards as everything and tolerate the abuse.

But this is dangerous for any person’s physical and mental health. Hence, one must take strict actions to ensure one can break the pattern.

What is positive reinforcement in dog training? Why does a man need a dog?

If you have just got a dog or are new to dog training, this article is for you. It covers the definition, practical issues, reasons to use positive reinforcement, and some common mistakes people make when using it.

Positive reinforcement is fun, enjoyable, helpful, and very effective.

What is positive reinforcement? nine0009

Positive reinforcement is a very effective way to train dogs (and other animals).

Positive reinforcement means adding something immediately after a behavior occurs that increases the frequency of that behavior.

Technically, this term has two parts. Reinforcement means that the behavior is continued or its frequency is increased. (If the behavior fades away and is not repeated, it is not a reinforcer.)

And positive means that something has been added. nine0003

For example, you ask a dog to sit, the dog sits, and you give him a treat (something added). And the next time you ask, the dog is more likely to sit down (the frequency of the behavior increases).

What is used as a reward in positive reinforcement?

For dog training, food is the best reward. Because all dogs love to eat and it's effective because you can give it quickly.

Play is also sometimes used as a reinforcer in training. For example, a game of dragging or fetching toys. You may even have seen some working or agility training dogs rewarded with a game of tug. nine0003

However, in practice, food is best for most everyday training situations. You can get it quickly (think how long it takes to play tug versus how fast the treat disappears in the dog's mouth). This means that you can do multiple reps in a short amount of time. In addition, sometimes the game can interfere with the learning process.

Kindness and praise are also sometimes offered as rewards. But you have to think about it from a dog's point of view - and yes, scientists have thought about it too. One study found that dogs may not be interested in praise. It should always mean something to the dog. For example, if "well done!" always accompanied by a treat, then they will know that this portends pleasure; but otherwise, it might be pointless. nine0003

Most dogs love petting, but the same scientists found that dogs prefer food over petting in training. And in case you're wondering, there are other studies that have compared food to petting as a reward in dog training. They also found that food leads to better results.

The problem of efficiency is also relevant: food is faster.

Thus, food is the best reward as a positive reinforcement.

What kind of food should I use as a reinforcement? nine0009

There is a huge variety of options, from treats you can buy at the pet store, to human food that is suitable for dogs, to treats you can make yourself.

Choose something that your dog really likes because it will motivate him better. Of course, the treat should fit into an overall balanced diet. You can also change treats to provide variety or choose the right one for a particular task. nine0003

For example, if you exercise a lot, small cubes of boiled chicken may be the most appropriate choice because it is a healthy component of a dog's diet. Or you can use tiny treats to keep your dog from overfeeding (especially small dogs). In other cases, pieces of cheese or deli meats may be an option in moderation. Use the tastiest rewards to learn tricky skills like calling.

Here are some examples of foods you can use for reinforcement: chicken pieces, boiled beef, cheese cubes, dried offal and fish treats, carrots, peanut butter, tuna, pet store bought treats, sausages, sausage (not greasy!), ham, etc. nine0003

Did any of these foods cause you to salivate profusely? This is good, because this is the effect you want to achieve in your dog! Of course, you don't use the whole sausage at once. The treat should be the size of a pea. Try a few treat options to see what your dog likes.

Tube pâté can also be used as a reward. You can buy pre-made ones (like leanlix or Lickety Stik) or make your own using plastic tubes. nine0003

As you know, cats should not be fed dog food, but dogs will not be harmed by cat food, and many dogs like more salty pieces of dry cat food.

If you buy a treat from a pet store, read the ingredient list to make sure it's right for your dog.

Make sure the treat is safe for your dog. If you are using human food as a reward, make sure it does not contain onions (may be found in some meats and other products) and xylitol (such as some brands of peanut butter), which are not safe for dogs. nine0003

If you prefer to make your own treats, there are plenty of recipes on the internet for making them. In addition, many of the ingredients in them are interchangeable.

How do I use positive reinforcement if my dog ​​is on a special diet?

If your dog is on a special diet, you can still use treats as a reward. One option is to use canned food from the same line of medicated food that you feed your dog. (If you are giving it from a spoon, be careful not to injure your dog, teach him to lick off the treat, or use a tube.) nine0003

Another option would be to use one of the ingredients in the diet (fish or something else). You can also tailor the recipe for homemade treats to suit your dog's needs.

What do professional trainers reward?

I asked Christy Benson what reward she uses when training dogs. Christy is a dog trainer from Maniotbe, Canada and an employee of the Canine Academy.

She said, “I like to use food, and the types of food I prefer are things that can be cut into small pieces and that dogs can eat quickly so that we can continue training right away. I also like to use foods that dogs really like, sometimes very smelly foods like smoked fish. Sometimes I use cheese. Sometimes I buy junk food, I know it's not a very healthy food, so I don't use it very often. nine0003

And I also use some recipes for treats that are popular with dog lovers, like tuna or liver biscuits. I have a favorite egg treat recipe because we have a lot of eggs from the local farm.”

And I'll remind you, “I use the tastiest treat to train my dogs to call because it's easier. And I recommend that clients stock up on something special (like tuna paté) to better motivate the dog and offer him something really tasty.” nine0003

What is not positive reinforcement?

Sometimes people make the mistake of calling the moment when something unpleasant stops as positive reinforcement. This is not true. For example, some trainers using a shock collar say that when the shock stops, it is a reward for the dog. This is not true.

Relief is not the same as reward!

Remember: positive reinforcement means that something has been added. Stopping something is the opposite of adding something. nine0003

It's worth being on the lookout because there are a lot of confusing words about "conflict-free training" and other misinformation about dog training.

Since there is no regulation of dog trainers, owners should be well informed.

But my dog ​​is not a food worker!

This is something every coach has to listen to from time to time. If this is true and your dog is not interested in food, you should take him to the vet. If your dog is not eating, he may have some kind of medical problem that needs to be examined and treated. nine0003

More often than not, when people talk about this, it turns out that the food they use doesn't really motivate the dog. For example, they offer her dry food pellets, which she already receives 2 times a day - this may not be enough to motivate the dog.

This is a common mistake people make when they are new to training. If this applies to you, check out the list above for some treat options. You'll likely have to try several options to see what your dog likes best, and remember that variety can help too. nine0003

Sometimes people are reluctant to use food to train dogs and that is why they use dry food. Some people worry that this might affect their relationship with the dog - perhaps they are afraid that their dog doesn't really like them if food is to be used to make them obey. But your dog can love both you and food, and there's even an fMRI study to prove it.

And when you see your dog's happy, expectant look when he wants a cookie, doesn't that fill you with wonderful warm feelings? nine0003

Why use positive reinforcement in dog training?

Many studies show that people who use positive reinforcement training describe their dogs as more obedient than those who use aversive methods. The use of positive reinforcement improves bonding with the dog and has a better effect on his well-being than the use of negative reinforcement. In addition, previous experience of learning with positive reinforcement is associated with better success in learning new behaviors. nine0003

In contrast, the use of punishment is associated with an aggressive response in some dogs, and the use of aversive methods is a risk factor for the development of aggression towards both family members and strangers.

Although these studies are correlational and do not prove causality, there are several things that could explain this. First, positive reinforcement teaches your dog what to do, not just punishes the behavior (which doesn't teach them new behavior at all). nine0003

Another point is that punishment can be stressful for the dog, and if he ties the owner as the reason for the punishment, this can negatively affect the relationship with the owner.

There is another reason to use positive reinforcement: dogs love to work to earn a reward. And now scientists are recommending that for better animal welfare, they need positive experiences.

Therefore, using positive reinforcement in training is good for your dog. nine0003

Why doesn't positive reinforcement work?

If you're thinking, "I tried positive reinforcement and it didn't work!" there are several possible reasons for this.

Perhaps the most common reason is the use of the wrong reward to motivate the dog. Go back to the list of goodies and pick up something tastier.

But there are a number of other possible reasons.

You may not be planning a class. You will get the best results if you make a lesson plan and follow it. nine0003

You may not be giving treats fast enough. For example, you ask the dog to lie down, but by the time you get the treat, he is already up, so you have rewarded the misbehavior. You need to learn how to give rewards as soon as possible following the desired behavior.

Perhaps, on the contrary, knowing that you need to reward the dog as soon as possible, you actually move your hand to the bag with the treat before the dog obeys the command. It might confuse her. The dog reacts to the movement of your hand as a cue. nine0003

Or maybe you gave your dog a difficult task. Very often it seems that the dog has already learned the desired behavior after a few repetitions. It's like learning to waltz by learning the moves, but a few good tries aren't enough to learn how to waltz; it takes more practice. Your dog also needs more practice.

And speaking of practice, you must also introduce distracting stimuli very slowly. Just because your dog can follow the command to sit in a room when nothing else is going on doesn't mean he can do the same in the park when other dogs or children or even a squirrel are running around. It is very difficult! nine0003

That's all you can work on, but dog training is a difficult skill and you have nothing to be ashamed of if you fail. You may need to seek help from a qualified dog trainer or join a training group. Since dog training is not regulated, make sure that the trainer you want to contact does not use aversive methods, but works on positive reinforcement.

You can also use the list of literature and Internet resources that I recommend. nine0003

But the trainer says it doesn't apply to my dog?!

Some trainers claim that "positive reinforcement doesn't work" or "it won't work for your dog" as an attempt to justify the use of an ESHO, hard collar or choke (controller).

First of all, remember that dog training is not regulated. Some coaches simply do not know how to work in other ways, and therefore consider positive reinforcement to be ineffective. In addition, the old traditional school of training, which is still often found among trainers, believes that dogs are not capable of self-control and understanding of what is required of them, except with the help of jerks and pressure. nine0003

Secondly, it is important to know that there are risks associated with the use of stun collars. One study in the UK found that ESPs were no more effective than positive reinforcement for training dogs to call. They also found negative effects on the welfare of some dogs.

Take care of your dog and don't let the trainer use training methods you don't like.

Do I need to use a clicker?

That's up to you. nine0003

The clicker is used to mark the moment when the dog performs a correct behavior. This is very fast, so it gives you the opportunity to delay the moment of giving the dog a treat (not immediately, but several seconds later).

Some people really enjoy using the clicker. They also find it helps improve their technique (perhaps because they pay close attention to when to click and don't move until then).

Some people don't like the clicker. They find it clumsy and uncomfortable or too difficult. Luckily for them, there is a study that found that there is no difference in learning success between using a clicker, a verbal marker, or no marker (only treats). nine0003

For behavior that is very fast and fleeting, a marker (click or your voice) will really help. But for many other commands that we teach a dog, such as sit or lie down, it is quite possible to get by with just a treat.

The most important thing is to use food reinforcement to train your dog. If you try the clicker, you might enjoy using it. But if it doesn't work for you, don't worry about it. Just keep using the treat.

Should I always use positive reinforcement?

This is a common question and can be easily answered with another question: Do you want your dog to continue this behavior? If the answer is yes, then you should continue to reward him.

Now you can reward not every time. Using an intermittent reinforcement schedule (when the behavior is sometimes rewarded and sometimes not) can help increase the resistance of the behavior to extinction (that's when the behavior can stop). This is useful because in real life there may be a situation when you forget to take a treat with you. nine0003

But this is a very common mistake when a person completely stops rewarding a behavior. The end result is that the dog stops following the command and people say, "I tried and it didn't work." In fact, this is called fading: i.e. you taught your dog to do something because you stopped rewarding that behavior.

Another very common mistake is not rewarding behavior enough.

Remember that dogs love to work for food and you should still feed your dog. Treat training is a good way to train your dog's brain and provide an enriching environment. Rather than stop rewarding, it's best to keep thinking about new things you can teach your dog. nine0003

Positive reinforcement in training other animals

Cats, rats, chickens and even fish and crabs can be trained with positive reinforcement! It is on positive reinforcement that animals are trained in zoos in order to accustom them to medical procedures or movement in the right direction (to another enclosure).


I hope this article has provided you with useful information about the use of positive reinforcement in dog training. If you liked it, share it with your friends. nine0003

What is your dog's favorite treat?

Zazie Todd

Source: What is Positive Reinforcement in Dog Training?

Positive reinforcement - Psychologos

Positive reinforcement - something that happens simultaneously with an act and leads to an increase in the likelihood of this act in the future. Once again, it is important: unlike rewards, which can be given much later than what happened (rewarded according to the results of the competition), reinforcement should occur exactly at the same moment as the desired action itself. Well, or immediately after it - the main thing is that in the head (soul, body) these two moments are organically connected into one whole. nine0003

What can be positive reinforcement in life? These are very different things.

In life it can be difficult to make out who reinforces what in a given situation. When the experimenter reinforces the dog's salivary reflex by flashing the light, he controls the dog's behavior. But to the extent that the dog can control the flashing of the light, it also controls the behavior of the experimenter...

Mom calls the child, he ran - she hugged and kissed him. positive reinforcement. The child clung to her mother for this, the mother melted ... This is also a positive reinforcement, but here the child already controls the behavior of the mother so that she does what he likes more often. nine0003

Positive reinforcement is an effective tool, but few people know how to use it effectively, thinking through all the consequences. When parents approach the child, they reinforce the behavior that the child is doing at that time. If parents approach a small child when he smiles, take him in his arms when he reaches for them, talk to him when he walks with them - they raise a calm, cheerful, positive and loving child. If parents are very busy and approach the child only when he screamed or peed, they are raising someone who will increasingly cry and piss. nine0003

The boy was frightened, clung to his mother - mother stroked his head, he felt better. What will happen next? Then it will be more often next to mom - to be afraid ...

Unfortunately, natural positive reinforcers reinforce not only what we like, but everything. what happens well. The child successfully lied, they believed him - he liked it, he will be inclined to this in the future. On the other hand, if he was afraid, but told you the truth and you supported him, expressed your respect to him, you gave positive reinforcement to the habit of telling the truth. nine0003

Our habit of saying kind words to our loved ones, the habit of thanking even for the little things (for a delicious breakfast, for a pleasant or useful conversation, and just for the joy of being together), the habit of showing signs of attention is a valuable arsenal that strengthens our relationships and makes it possible to improve the things we need. relationship.

Show your child your good emotions

By praise we usually mean sentences with the word “You”: “You are so brave!” "Well done!" "You helped me so much!" nine0212 Praise with the I-message is even more effective: “I am very proud of you!” "I'm very glad!" . "Normal" praise shows the child: "My parents see that I'm good at something.

Learn more