Poisoned Cues and Schedules of Reinforcement

Mixed schedules of reinforcement lead to poisoned cues.

This is where there is more than one schedule of reinforcement available at different times, but you can’t tell which is available when…..there are NO clear discriminative stimuli (environmental cues) to tell you what reinforcement schedule is on offer at any moment in time.

This is in contrast to multiple schedules where there are more than one schedule available at different times and it’s clear which one is available when….there are clear discriminative stimuli (environmental cues) to tell you what reinforcement schedule is on offer at any moment in time.

The mixed schedule would be like your boss walking in to the office one day and being in a terrible mood and yelling at someone. Then the next day in a great mood and praising people. You don’t know what you are going to get until he yells/praises.

Over time you learn the behaviour that comes before the behavior that comes before the behaviour and so on. Eventually you may be able to tell what mood he is in by the way he drives in to the car park, before he even sets foot in the office. The schedule of reinforcement now has clear discriminative stimuli and is now a multiple schedule. You know he’s in a bad mood so you head for the bathroom until he’s securely in his own office with the door shut.

By reading the cues and changing the mixed schedule to a multiple schedule you take some control back and THAT is a powerful reinforcer.

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