CHAPTER 5: DECREASING BEHAVIOUR WITH EXTINCTION
• Two types of extinction: operant and respondent.
• The principle of operant extinction states that if in any given situation a person
exhibits a previously reinforced behaviour, then ceasing to reinforce the
behaviour will lead to the behaviour being exhibited less frequently when
encountering a similar situation
o Ex: if a response has been increased in frequency due to positive
reinforcement, then ceasing the positive reinforcement will lead to a
decrease in the frequency of the response.
• It may take several repetitions of the behaviour occurring without being
reinforced before any obvious decrease in its frequency occurs.
• Extinction is not the only cause for a decrease in behaviour, it could also be
caused by reprimand (parents yelling STOP THAT when a child swears);
response cost punishment (parents cut 25c from allowance every time child
swears); or forgetting in which a behaviour is weakened as a function of time
from its last occurrence.
• Extinction decreases behaviour by ceasing to reinforce it.
Factors influencing the effectiveness of extinction:
1. Controlling reinforcers for the behavior that is to be decreased:
If a mother is trying to get a whiny child to stop whining, she may ignore
the whines and reward the child with what he/she wants when the whining
However in a later instance another individual gives the child what they
want when they are whining to get them to stop whining it undermines the
It is therefore necessary to control the behavior of individuals who may
sabotage the procedure or carry it out in their absence.
2. Extinction combined with positive reinforcement for an alternate behavior:
Extinction is most effective when coupled with a reinforced alternate
behaviour. If a child is crying unnecessarily they should be ignored until the crying
The alternate behaviour of playing quietly can be rewarded with praise but
it should be done 5-10 seconds after the behaviour of playing quietly is
exhibited (5 seconds is an example it’s not hard and fast) over time the
alternate behaviour should be allowed to occur longer gradually before it is
rewarded. 10 seconds then 20 seconds etc.
Rewarding the behaviour immediately after the child stops crying will in
fact reinforce the crying behaviour not the alternate one.
3. The setting in which extinction is carried out:
The setting of the extinction program is important to minimize the influence
of alternate reinforcers for the undesirable behaviour.
o Ex: when a whining child is given what they want by someone who wants
them to stop whining and is unfamiliar with the extinction program.
The setting of the extinction program is also important to maximize the
chances of the behaviour modifier persisting with the program.
o Ex: a mother is unlikely to carry on with extinction if her child is whining
loudly in a grocery store due to the dirty looks from other shoppers.
4. Instructions: Use Rules
It will help if the individual is told something like “each time you do X then
Y will no longer occur”.
o Ex: If a husband who comes home every day and complains about traffic
is told “the traffic is the same every day and it doesn’t do any good
complaining about it, I love to talk to you about other things but each day
you come complain about traffic I’m going to ignore it” the behaviour of
complaining should decrease rapidly although it may take a couple
5. Extinction is quicker after continuous reinforcement: There are two types of reinforcement: Continuous and intermittent.
In continuous reinforcement each instance of a particular response is
o Behaviour is extinguished more quickly if it was continuously reinforced.
In intermittent reinforcement is when a response is reinforced only
o If the behaviour was reinforced intermittently it takes much longer to
o An example is, if you have a pen that is writing fine and then
suddenly it stops, you shake it up and down and attempt to write
with it again. If after shaking it up and down it still doesn’t work you
immediately throw it away.
o However a second pen skips occasionally. After shaking it the pen
starts to write for a while and then stops working again, you will
once again shake it, it again starts to write for a while and you are
more likely to persist with the behaviour of shaking it and continuing
to write with the pen in the second situation rather than the first.
6. Behaviour being extinguished may get worse before it gets better:
Extinction burst: during extinction a behaviour may increase before it
It is because most of us have learned if a behaviour isn’t paying off then
sometimes increasing the behaviour is sufficient for the pay off.
However it is important to be aware of the extinction burst and to not give
up on the extinction program due to the extinction burst.
Also, it i