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There are five different schedules of reinforcement: variable ratio, variable interval, fixed ratio, fixed interval, and continuous reinforcement. A schedule of reinforcement refers to how often a target behavior is reinforced. Reinforcement schedules allow you to make a behavior more or less resistant to extinction. Reinforcement schedules can also be more practical than continuous reinforcement, for you do not have to continuously watch the subject.

A variable ratio (VR) is based on average frequencies. A VR schedule is what often happens in every day life. You don’t say “I’ll praise Johnny the fifth time he gets an A,” it just turns out that way. A VR 3 would be that an average of the third time the behavior occurs, it gets reinforced.

Fixed ratio (FR) is based on the frequency of the behavior. A certain number is picked, starting off low when the schedule is first implemented, and then the behavior is reinforced after that many occurrences. A FR 1 is the same as a continuous reinforcement schedule because the behavior is reinforced every time that it occurs.

A fixed interval (FI) is based on the amount of time that elapses between behaviors. If you have a FI 1, then the first time the behavior occurs after one minute, it is reinforced. So after the behavior occurs, the timer is set, then at one minute the observer can watch again for occurrences. This is useful once the time increases to thirty minutes, for the individual has thirty minutes in between sessions where they can go about their own business. The variable interval (VI) is just like the variable ratio, although based on elapsed time. An average of time is calculated and then used to base the frequency of reinforcement for behavior.

Variable ratio is the most resistant to extinction, for the subject believes that eventually they will get reinforced, so they continue to attempt the behavior. If you plan on extinguishing a behavior, it is often useful to use a continuous reinforcement schedule just before extinction to make extinction more fruitful. In everyday life, variable ratio and variable interval are the most prevalent. Typically, only psychologists use fixed ratio or fixed interval for it requires planning and forethought. If you want a low maintenance plan, use one of the variable schedules.