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Techniques Conditioning > Fading

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



Fading is the process of gradually reducing a reward for acting in a certain way and replacing it with a cue.

Fading actions can include:

  • Associating a reward with a cue by enacting them in close sequence.
  • Lengthening the time between cue and reward.
  • Reducing the frequency of reward.
  • Giving the reward on an unpredictable schedule (to sustain hope).
  • Reducing the size or duration of cues (eg. smaller hand movements).
  • Gradually replacing a basic reward, such as food, with an easier one, such as praise.


A parent gives a child gold stars on a gift chart for getting good school marks. This works for a while. They talk with the child and ask if the child likes doing well. Through conversation they agree to give stars only top marks. After another while, the child voluntarily says they don't need any more gold stars.

A dog trainer gives a biscuit when the dog sits. After a while, they give biscuits less and less often, though always giving the dog praise and attention. A while later, they reduce the intensity and frequency of praise to a just-sustainable level.


Rewards are given after a desired action occurs. They say 'well done' and encourage repeating of the action through reinforcement. However, what you really want is for the action to happen when you ask for it. In other words, cues are given before the desired action. Fading is the transfer process from post-action reward to pre-action cue.

When the subject learns they are going to get a reward for acting to cue, they will complete the action in expectation of the reward. When the reward is not always removed, expectation is replaced with hope. As the reward is given less often, the hope fades.

Fading can become problematic if the subject becomes overly-anxious about whether they will get the reward or not. This may be addressed by slowing down the removal of the reward.

A benefit of reducing a reward is that the subject gradually focuses more on the action than the reward. They may hence improve their actions.

Occasional (or even frequent) praise can help sustain the cued action over a long period. Praise also helps the subject accept the removal of the original reward.

See also



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