skinner’s guide to rewards


For many reward situations; use immediate and intermittent responses to player actions.

“One of Skinner’s most important discoveries is that behavior reinforced intermittently (as opposed to consistently) is the most difficult to extinguish. In other words, intermittent rewards beat predictable rewards. It’s the basis of most animal training, but applies to humans as well… which is why slot machines are so appealing, and one needn’t be addicted to feel it.”

Good use of (positive) reinforcers requires;

  • reinforcement of behaviors as soon as they occur
  • starting with continuous reinforcement, changing to irregular reinforcement when the player has repeated successful
  • setting small tasks for a small rewards

“Slot machines and online games are sometimes cited as examples of human devices that use sophisticated operant schedules of reinforcement to reward repetitive actions.”

“…a Coke machine and a slot machine: If you put your money in a Coke machine, and nothing comes out, you might kick the machine, you might rattle the machine, but after a while you give up and go away. But if you put your money in a slot machine and nothing comes out, you might stay there for hours, putting in more money. Casinos make hundreds of millions of dollars from people who will feed those machines all day long, waiting to be reinforced for their behavior. A slot machine reinforces you on a variable basis, and variable reinforcement is very powerful.”

“Partial or intermittent schedules of reinforcement result in responses that resist extinction better than responses resulting from continuous reinforcement.”

“A trophy at the end of a season may reinforce our dedication to the sport. Psychologists call this reinforcer “delayed.” Humans can respond to reinforcers that are greatly delayed. In fact, for us to function effectively, we must defer current rewards to greater returns in the long term. Four-year olds who prefer a large reward in an hour rather than a small but immediate one tend to grow into high achievers as adolescents and social virtuosos as adults. However, smokers prefer their immediate pleasure than the thought of cancer and heart disease in the future. Immediate reinforcement dominates for humans as well as for rats. Many of us prefer the dubious pleasure of another hour of late-night TV to the possibility of sluggishness the following day.”


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