BF Skinner made a name for himself as the father of behavioral psychology with his experiments on rats using, what we now call, “The Skinner Box”. The box enabled the rat to press a lever and in return get food as a “reinforcer” (psych. language for reward).
Skinner experimented with changing when and how often the rat would get food by changing the ratio or the interval. For example, different situations could have been as follows:
- The rat received food every time they pressed the lever
- The rat received food every 3rd time they pressed the lever
- The rat received food every 3 minutes
- The rat received food randomly
What he found that was so remarkable was the consistency at which rats, pigeons and humans respond to these different intervals.
The thing that I found so fascinating was that (in the consistent reward-giving scenarios — where they got rewards every x-times) after the rat had received the food they would stop pressing the lever for a certain amount of time. They would take a break. The longer it had been since the last reward, the longer the break they would take.
This made me wonder — is there a dip in productivity after payday in our jobs?
Interestingly, however, if the reward is given randomly, there is no pause, or break.
This reminded me of something my Uber driver had talked about this morning. He said that he loves driving for Uber because he gets money is his bank at the end of every single day — a different amount every single day.
Are they doing this to purposefully keep their drivers engaged and “pressing the lever”, so to speak?
If so, is this ethical? Could we be using this knowledge more in our everyday lives to keep ourselves and our teams happy, motivated and engaged?