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Intermittent Rewards

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Back when I was taking Psychology 101 we learned about intermittent rewards. It was a simple principle that has a broad range of applications, from animal training to slot machines, even those little prizes at the bottom of a box of cereal. The basic idea is that if you occasionally reward a subject for a good deed, they will continue to perform this deed on cue, regardless if they receive a reward.

For example:

  • Rat #1 is in a box with a lever and a box of food that he can eat at any time. He eats the food when he's hungry, and never learns to push the lever.
  • Rat #2 is in a box with a lever and a door that opens to give him food when he pushes the lever. By trial and error he eventually pushes the lever and discovers the food. He keeps pushing the lever until he's full. He only pushes the lever when he's hungry
  • Rat #3 is in a box with a lever and a door that intermittently opens to reveal food when he pushes the lever. The rat eventually learns the lever and the food are connected, but not directly. He will push the lever ad nauseum to receive the food, and will continue to do so after the reward has been removed.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Joe Crede is Rat #3. Not only has he conditioned himself to continue his habits at the plate by occasionally being rewarded with the clutch HR, but he's conditioned us to love him for it. Just when we've given up hope on Crede again, he comes through in a big way. Crede's clutch HRs are the food, we are the rat. It's a vicious cycle.

Note to any Psychology majors out there: I haven't taken any psych classes in 7 years, and even then I didn't pay much attention. It's just an elaborate analogy. Please take it as such.