How the frequency of rewards can inspire behaviour

Being rewarded is part of the human experience and involves complex neurological responses in the brain. But there is more to reward the physiology: the frequency of receiving rewards can have an inherent effect on our experience. A systemised approach looks at how frequency rate impacts the likelihood that we will engage in that activity again. Psychologists describe these as schedules of reinforcement.

It is easy to see how positive reinforcement effects our social and work patterns. We can make the association that continued use of a product or service is driven by reward and loyalty that the receiver experiences. When creating a program to drive a particular behaviour within a target audience, we first need to understand the members of the program.  Here are the four main intermittent schedules of reinforcement, all with unique benefits to recognising a particular action or behaviour.

Fixed Ratio schedule

A specific number of actions or responses are necessary before the reinforcement is delivered. For example, this schedule would be best used for learning experiences such as completing 2 assessment pieces to get rewarded. This can be a great to incorporate into programs that aim to train and develop new members.

Variable Ratio

Rewards are given after a varying number of actions are taken; after 2, sometimes 4, 9, 6. It’s easy to see that people will likely respond to this reward schedule as it is surprising and unpredictable as to when they will next receive the reward. Adding scratch cards to your program can add an element of surprise, and helps to maintain a behaviour over time as members are not sure as to when they will next be rewarded!

Fixed Interval

A certain amount of time passes before the behaviour is rewarded. This can be seen in programs which aim to drive activity close to a deadline, utilising count-downs and a leaderboard in your program can motivate members to take action.

Variable Interval

A reinforcement is given to a response after an unpredictable amount of time on a changing/variable schedule. Members may already be buying your product or service and you wish to reinforce this behaviour, adding in unique prizes over different periods of time, such as flash prize auctions.

In multiple schedules of intermittent reinforcement, the persistent actions or responses can be described as resistance to extinction. Even after the reward is taken away the behaviour will remain for a while because your member is not sure if this is just a longer interval before the reward than usual!

The key message from schedules of reinforcements is that adapting the rate at which you give rewards can have differing effects on driving behaviour. Each schedule can be adapted to a rewards program that will drive particular behaviours such as; building customer loyalty, motivating channel members, or recognising and empowering employees.


Interested in developing a successful rewards program? Contact the experts at Hachiko to learn more –


Ferster S. B. (2002). Schedules of reinforcement with Skinner. Journal of the experimental analysis of behaviour, 77, 303-311.

Grieve, R., Lowe-Calverley, E. (2016). The power of rewards and why we seek them out. The Conversation.

Nevin, J. A. (2012). Resistance to extinction and behavioural momentum. Behavioural Processes90(1), 89–97.