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Intermittent Reinforcement and the Persistence of Behavior: Experimental Evidence


  • Robin M. Hogarth

    () (ICREA, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Ramon Trias Fargas, 25–27, 08005 Barcelona, Spain complexes, IXXI, Lyon, F-69007, France, ENS-LYON, Laboratoire de Physique, UMR 5672, Lyon, F-69007, France)

  • Marie-Claire Villeval

    () (Université de Lyon, Lyon, F-69003, France; CNRS, GATE Lyon St Etienne, UMR 5824, 93, chemin des Mouilles, Ecully, F-69130, France; ENS-LSH, Lyon, France)


Whereas economists have made extensive studies of the impact of levels of incentives on behavior, they have paid little attention to the effects of regularity and frequency of incentives. We contrasted three ways of rewarding participants in a real-effort experiment in which individuals had to decide when to exit the situation : a continuous reinforcement schedule (all periods paid) ; a fixed intermittent reinforcement schedule (one out of three periods paid) ; and a random intermittent reinforcement schedule (one out of three periods paid on a random basis). In all treatments, monetary rewards were withdrawn after the same unknown number of periods. Overall, intermittent reinforcement leads to more persistence and higher total effort, while participants in the continuous condition exit as soon as payment stops or decrease effort dramatically. Randomness increases the dispersion of effort, inducing both early exiting and persistence in behavior ; overall, it reduces agents’ payoffs. Our interpretation is that, in the presence of regime shifts, both the frequency and the randomness of the reinforcement schedules influence adjustments that participants make across time to their reference points in earnings expectations. This could explain why agents persist in activities although they lose money, such as excess trading in stock markets.

Suggested Citation

  • Robin M. Hogarth & Marie-Claire Villeval, 2010. "Intermittent Reinforcement and the Persistence of Behavior: Experimental Evidence," Working Papers 1018, Groupe d'Analyse et de Théorie Economique Lyon St-Étienne (GATE Lyon St-Étienne), Université de Lyon.
  • Handle: RePEc:gat:wpaper:1018

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Rosaz, Julie & Villeval, Marie Claire, 2012. "Lies and biased evaluation: A real-effort experiment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 84(2), pages 537-549.

    More about this item


    Intermittent reinforcement; ambiguity; randomness; incentives; experiment;

    JEL classification:

    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior
    • M54 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Labor Management
    • J28 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Safety; Job Satisfaction; Related Public Policy
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials


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