Fixed Ratio: Work To Your Goals!
Since we’ve gone over each of the schedules of reinforcement, it’s time to go into each one in a little more detail. We’ll start with the good ol’ Fixed Ratio.
As a quick review: schedules of reinforcement are different times where you could reinforce a subject. Based upon when you reinforce and how often you reinforce, your subject’s behaviors will act differently.
With that in mind, a Fixed Ratio Schedule is when you have a set number (Fixed) of responses (ratio) that will result in you giving a reinforcer. Often times, this schedule is used after continuous reinforcement because it rewards your subject for responding to you regularly. The biggest difference is that, under a fixed ratio, your subject has to reach a set number of responses before it gets a reinforcer.
The reason you’d want to switch to this kind of schedule is when you want your subject to reach a certain number of times its responded first before you give it anything. This can be useful if you’re just working on building up a habit for whatever you are hoping to train.
Let’s look at some common examples.
Let’s say you’re training a dog to paw your hand. In the beginning, as long as the dog touches your hand with its paw, then you’ll give them a treat – every single time they touch your hand, you treat.
Once they have this down, we can switch to a fixed ratio. First, let’s say you choose to reward your dog every 10 hand touches. We’d refer to this as a FR – 10 (Fixed Ratio – 10), meaning it’s on a fixed number of 10 hand touches before your dog will get their reinforcer. You could add some variance, but in order to remain a fixed ratio, the variance must be incredibly small. The idea is that you’re providing a set goal post for your dog to reach
What happens in practice is that your dog will be ready to rapid fire 10 hand touches, but may take a break after the reinforcer for the first 10.
Features of Fixed Ratio Schedules
One of the best points to using this schedule of reinforcement is that your subject will have a high rate of response punctuated by breaks after they get their reinforcement.
This behavior works best in situations where your subjects’ breaks aren’t going to be detrimental. In fact, those breaks could be very beneficial. You can use that time to let your subject learn another behavior, or just let them rest so you can keep the session going on for longer. More importantly however, is that after a break, your subject will have a high response rate in order to reach the next reinforcement point.
To better show you what is nice about Fixed Ratios, let’s go back to the graph I made in the introduction.
Notice how each time the subject was reinforced, they decided to take a short break before putting in more responses. The only other schedule to share that characteristic is Fixed Interval, where the breaks are far longer and happen before a gradual increase in activity as the window of reinforcement arrives.
From that graph, you can see how, after a break, the subject will have a high rate of responses in order to reach their next reinforcer and next break.
This schedule of reinforcement is going to be best used when you’re trying to shape and create a habit for the first time.
Everyday Examples of Fixed Ratio Schedules
This schedule of reinforcement isn’t used too often on people. More often than nought, having a high rate of response followed by a break doesn’t fit into many work schedules.
In the past, you would see this schedule of reinforcement for production line work. Employees would have to create a certain amount of a product each day before they got their break and pay.
In modern times however, you see this schedule of reinforcement in video games. Most games will have an objective that says something like “do this x number of times” before rewarding you with something. You’ll especially see this in games with achievements, or free-to-play games with a premium currency. The designers will set up an objective like “defeat x number of enemies” and when the player completes it, they get a reward.
Actually, let’s touch on that very quickly.
Gaming And Fixed Ratio
With the advent of free-to-play games and video games as a service, you should be more aware about these schedules of reinforcement than ever. Fixed Ratio is best used when you’re trying to teach your subjects a new habit, and what better new habit can you build into an audience than giving you money.
Free-to-play games will reward on a Fixed Ratio by giving you a reinforcer for a set number of tasks performed. For games like Pokemon Go, it can be number of battles done, steps taken, or pokemon caught. But the habit that they’re building here is for you to log-on every single day and interact with their app.
This wouldn’t be so bad if they also didn’t encourage people to spend money into their systems in order to keep playing. After the app has reinforced users for playing a certain amount of time every day, it will start lessening that amount of time by having larger resource drains or creating more opportunities for users to use their resources. In doing so, users are going to be encouraged to spend to keep their going (remember, the habit was built through fixed reinforcement). Scarce but powerful items and some Quality of Life systems are designed specifically to encourage users to spend money in order to get better reinforcers.
I’ll touch on this again in some of the other schedules, but always be aware about how these games are training you to give the company money. It’s one of the reasons why every game company under the sun now wants to make a mobile game.