Do you know what intermittent reinforcement is? As a psych major in undergrad and a clinical psychology student for graduate school, I know just what it is.
Intermittent reinforcement is when a behavior is reinforced only some of the time. A great example of intermittent reinforcement (variable ratio, at that), is a slot machine, which randomly gives a reward, on no set schedule (now if you think slot machines are rigged...but that's a whole different subject entirely). Scientists have found that behaviors rewarded intermittently are actually harder to extinguish than those given continuously. That is, if you give a rat a pellet of food randomly and intermittently for performing a behavior, the behavior is strengthened *more* than if you give the rat a pellet every time they perform said behavior. It's a really cool phenomenon. I am reflecting on this phenomenon more than I would like to now that I am a parent.
Here's why--- my little Alley throws tremendous earth shaking fits when he wants to watch Diego or Yo Gabba Gabba videos. I mean, he screams, beats his head, cries, and tries to destroy things. I do my best to ignore the behavior. I also repeatedly tell hubby "no more TV every single day!, this kid is addicted!" Here's my quandry---by only letting Alley watch TV periodically (and not continuously) am I actually reinforcing the negative behavior (the tantrums?).
Something for you to think about.
WikEd reinforces (pun intended) my very contention:
The interesting thing that Skinner [one of the fathers of behavioral psychology] discovered about intermittent reinforcement and maybe one of Skinner's most important discoveries was that behavior that is reinforced intermittently is much more difficult to extinguish than behavior that is reinforced continuously. "This is why many of our student's undesirable behaviors are so difficult to stop. We might be able to resist a child's nagging most of the time, but if we yield every once in a while, the child will persist with it." (Crain, 187) Therefore, when we begin to teach a desired behavior it is best to begin with continuous reinforcement, but if you wish to make a desired behavior last it is best to switch to an intermittent schedule of reinforcement.