Variable Schedules of Reinforcement.

From Karen Pryor’s excellent Don’t Shoot the Dog (the first sentence runs long):

In order to maintain an already-learned behavior with some degree of reliability, it is not only not necessary to reinforce it every time; it is vital that you do not reinforce it on a regular basis but instead switch to using reinforcement only occasionally, and on a random or unpredictable basis. This is what psychologists call a variable schedule of reinforcement. A variable schedule is far more effective in maintaining behavior than a constant, predictable schedule of reinforcement. (page 21)

“Honey, you’ve been playing the slot machines for over five hours. Aren’t you hungry? Can we go eat somewhere?”

“Okay, just a few more minutes,” he replied, plucking another quarter from the plastic cup between his knees. After feeding it into the machine, his eyes watched the spinning fruits, jewels, and 7s.

Cherry. Cherry. Cherry.

The lights began to flash, synthesized music filled the air, and a shower of quarters clanged onto the metal dish below.

“WOO HOO!” he exclaimed. A small smile crept onto his wife’s face.

“I’m almost even! Things were slow for a while, but I’m back on a roll!”

(Behavior: Putting quarters into the machine and pulling the lever. Reinforcer: Lights, music, jackpots.)

“I know he’s bad for me, but I can’t help the way I feel,” Jennifer said.

“He’s terrible for you,” Lisa said. “This is the third time he’s gone behind your back with other women in the past six months! He’s not thinking about you, he’s thinking about him! Why do you put up with him?”

“Because when he’s around, he’s so good to me. Remember when we first met? He visited every day. He took me out. He bought me stuff. He was so nice.”

“Yeah, and now he doesn’t do any of those things.”

“That’s not true!” Jennifer exclaimed. “He’s done some wonderful things! Like four months ago, after I found out about that first woman. He said he was sorry and he showed it, too: He made dinner and bought that expensive necklace—remember that?”

“Right,” Lisa said. “And then he hooked up with another woman one week later.”

“He said he was sorry! He even cried. He said it didn’t mean anything. I believe him. To make up for it, he somehow bought us great seats at the sold-out concert.”

Jennifer sighed. Lisa rolled her eyes.

(Behavior: Jennifer’s tolerance of her boyfriend’s behavior. Reinforcer: Her boyfriend’s attention, bling, etc.)

These same principles could also apply to blogging. Discuss.