Extinction Defined

One often hears about this procedure in connection with undesirable behaviors such as excessively loud vocalization by companion parrots. It is also a term that is often used incorrectly so here is a short discussion of extinction.

In operant training, the procedure of withholding the reinforcers that maintain a behavior.
Paul Chance – Learning and Behavior.

While this is fairly simple to understand there are a couple of challenges with the use of this procedure. First it requires that the trainer really knows what the reinforcers are that are maintaining a behavior. In addition to this the trainer needs control of those reinforcers and sometimes the reinforcers are not in our control, making the application of extinction just not possible.

There is one more term that is worth discussing here with extinction and that is the extinction burst.

A sudden increase in the rate of behavior during the early stages of extinction.
Paul Chance, Learning and Behavior.

This effect of the extinction procedure is one that can set the caretaker of the parrot up to end up reinforcing a higher level vocalization just because they cannot stand the extinction burst level and they reinforce the higher level by reacting to it. This reinforcement, because it is not delivered after every vocalization is what is called intermittent reinforcement. A term to be discussed in a future article. For now the important part of understanding intermittent reinforcement is that it builds behavior that is more resistant to extinction. This serves to make the effective application of an extinction procedure even more difficult.


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