Schedules of Reinforcement, Learning, and Frequency Reward Programs

Adam Craig, University of South Carolina, USA
Timothy Silk, University of British Columbia, Canada
Recent studies have applied principles of operant conditioning to provide insight into consumer behavior in response to frequency reward programs (FRP’s). These studies have focused primarily on fixed ratio reinforcement schedules and have yet to examine other types of schedules, such as variable ratio schedules, found to generate higher response rates in other research domains. The current research examines the impact of variable ratio schedules in an FRP context. The authors find evidence of a response paradox: consumers predict they will purchase more and be more satisfied with predictable fixed ratio schedules, yet response rates are fastest when rewards are administered using unpredictable variable ratio schedules. Two experiments demonstrate that differences in response rates are attributable to differences in the rate at which consumers learn the schedules and anticipate rewards, and that learning is a function of the variability of reward timing. The findings suggest variable ratio schedules may be more profitable despite consumers’ preferences for predictable rewards.
[ to cite ]:
Adam Craig and Timothy Silk (2009) ,"Schedules of Reinforcement, Learning, and Frequency Reward Programs", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 36, eds. Ann L. McGill and Sharon Shavitt, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 555-555.