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Variable-Interval Schedule


Variable interval schedule

Checking your email at unpredictable intervals throughout the day is an example of a variable-interval schedule of reinforcement.

Image by Bruno Neves

In operant conditioning, a variable-interval schedule is a schedule of reinforcement where a response is rewarded after an unpredictable amount of time has passed. This schedule produces a slow, steady rate of response.


  • Very resistant to extinction
  • The rate of response is relatively slow, but steady
  • Very minimal pause after reinforcement is given


  • Checking Your Email: Typically, you check your email at random times throughout the day instead of checking every time a single message is delivered.

  • Your Employer Checking Your Work: Does your boss drop by your office a few times throughout the day to check your progress? This is an example of a variable-interval schedule. These check-ins occur at unpredictable times, so you never know when they might happen.

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