Picture this. It’s 3 am. In a dark room. The sound of the ocean is all you hear. You rock back and forth. Back and forth.That’s where I found myself a few nights ago. Only it wasn’t really the ocean- it was a sound machine. And I was rocking my infant who went from fussy to sleepy as I held her.

My thoughts in this tender mother-daughter moment: freaking intermittent reinforcement.

See, I hadn’t been rocking her in the middle of the night in a while. Normally if she fusses, it takes only a few minutes and she is able to put herself back to sleep.

So why was I in there this night at 3 am? Did she cry for an extra long time? Was it a louder cry? Was it a different cry- making me think she was in pain or something? I have no idea. I don’t make the most sound decisions when startling awake at 3 am.

​So there I was.  Just rocking my littlest girl and thinking about intermittent reinforcement.

So there I was.  Just rocking my littlest girl and thinking about intermittent reinforcement. (What an ABA nerd!)  I was worried that my being there that moment would increase the frequency of her middle of the night cries. I was worried that I was intermittently reinforcing the crying behavior.

Intermittent (interval or ratio schedules) schedules of reinforcement tend to make behaviors the most resistant to extinction. That is- they can easily be considered the strongest schedules of reinforcement.

So was I using the strongest schedule of reinforcement to reinforce my baby’s middle of the night crying?! Enter my thoughts: freaking intermittent reinforcement.

I rocked my sweet girl until she was sound asleep. And then I rocked her some more. Because you know what was happening- my middle of the night rocking behavior was being seriously reinforced. That sweet quiet alone time is pretty special to a mom. So baby girl effectively used intermittent reinforcement to increase the future frequency of my middle of the night rocking chair sessions.

Freaking intermittent reinforcement.

Just who was reinforcing who?

Learn more about intermittent reinforcement here:
Schedules of Reinforcement
Educate Autism – all about reinforcement schedules
Behaviorpedia definition
bSci21 article with adult examples