Habituation, Variety, and Intermittent Rewards [en]

[fr] Habituation, variété, récompenses aléatoires... il me manque un petit quelque chose pour lier tout ça ensemble.

Here’s another post in the “variety is the spice of life” series. My first intuition that it might make sense to vary the type of blog posts one produces to sustain reader interest didn’t actually have to do with my readings about habituation in The How of Happiness, although it was at the same moment and I then quickly put the two together.

When I initially suggested varying blog post type/topic to somebody who had a blog which was made of a series of very similar posts, I was thinking of intermittent rewards. So now, I’m wondering: how does what I’ve understood about habituation, the need to vary one’s happiness strategies, and intermittent reward reinforcement fit together?

Clearly, a system with intermittent rewards keeps your brain on high alert. Is varying one’s happiness activities also simply just keeping one’s brain alert, by providing “rewards” (the boost one gets from doing something that makes one happy) not on a completely regular schedule? Do intermittent rewards work against habituation?

I feel I’m onto something here but I can’t quite bring it all together.

We have: habituation => need for variety; vary reward schedule => increased reinforcement. Are we talking about the same thing (brain-wise, are the same phenomenons/chemicals involved) — or are these two similar things, that look similar, but are in fact two separate issues? What is the missing link here?

If you have thoughts, data, research, or case studies around this, I’m interested.

I also think there is something in this which explains why we have “phases” (go a lot to the cinema during a few months/years, then less, or read a lot, then less, take up a hobby, abandon it) and why (at least in my case) we play games for a moment, then move on to another one (I’m playing Zombie Café right now but feel the need for something new soon).