The Concept of Extinction

The term extinction is mainly used to denote the complete termination of species, primarily the living ones, but the non-living ones are sometimes included. It means that the species ceases to exist and becomes history, which can only be referred to. In behavioral psychology, however, the word is applied to explain induced behavioral changes that happen to increase or decrease depending on the environment and, of course, over a certain period. This paper explains extinction in behavioral psychology, instances where reinforcement happens, providing real-life examples.

Extinction in behavioral psychology means that a person’s conditioned behavior fades with time, and it eventually stops because the conditioned stimulus is presented with unconditioned stimuli, and therefore, the conditioned response stops representing classical theory (McPherson, 2019). In operant extinction of human psychology, extinction is attained when a condition is not supported due to a discriminative stimulus such as an error. In such a case, extinction implies a voluntary conditioned response’s fading and ultimate stop (Bouton, Maren, & McNally, 2021). Extinction does not mean permanent behavior on a person. Still, a break of several days can lead to recovery for such a case as in classical extinction. In the case of the operant theory, the reinforcement schedules determine extinction resistance, such as if reinforcement is done after a certain determined period (Bouton, Trask, & Carranza-Jasso, 2016). The more resistant behavior is, the more it becomes far from becoming extinct.

Despite psychology being able to affect behavior, other factors such as the time duration of the conditioned response, formation of habits, and the strength of the response behavior affect extinction (Craig & Shahan, 2016). The extinction process is a long journey. It takes time and is not often clean-cut or straightforward, often characterized by other factors such as extinction burse and other factors that delay extinction. An extinction burst is defined as a temporary rise in the duration, magnitude, and frequency of conditioned behaviors during the process of extinction. The extinction behavior reoccurs more during the process, trying to reawaken the unconditioned stimulus (Katz & Lattal, 2021). For instance, a parent may adopt a differential reinforcement or differential attention, decrease attention for bad behavior and increase attention for good ones to extinct the child’s bad behaviors. The child may cause more trouble in a bid to regain the parent’s attention (Nist & Shahan, 2021). In such a case, an extinction happens, which delays the extinction process.

Several examples denote the psychological behavior of extinction, such as when a parent gives surprise inspection to duties assigned to kids and puts on a specific jacket while doing so. On wearing that attire, kids are mostly liked to be beaten up even when they think they are doing their best. The coat, therefore, becomes the conditions stimuli that insert fear, and they can even run away. Still, when the parent comes several times with the jacked and does not beat them up, the fear disappears, and they behave calm, representing classical extinction (Morris, 2018). Another example is when a student acts funny and weird in class to get the teacher’s attention. Still, it is tied to operant extinction when the teacher ignores the student and finally stops the behavior (Bouton, Trask, & Carranza-Jasso, 2016). The behavior is slowly diminished due to inattention by the recipient.

Overall, extinction in behavioral psychology causes the fading of particular human behaviors, eventually stopping them. As discussed in this paper, several of our everyday reactions and responses denote classic extinction examples in behavioral psychology.


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Bouton, M. E., Trask, S., & Carranza-Jasso, R. (2016). Learning to inhibit the response during instrumental (operant) extinction. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition42(3), 246.

Craig, A. R., & Shahan, T. A. (2016). Experience with dynamic reinforcement rates decreases resistance to extinction. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior105(2), 291-306.

Katz, B. R., & Lattal, K. A. (2021). What is an extinction burst?: A case study in the analysis of transitional behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior115(1), 129-140.

McPherson, G. R. (2019, May). Becoming hope-free: Parallels between the death of individuals and extinction of homo sapiens. In Clinical Psychology Forum (Vol. 317, p. 7).

Morriss, J., Chapman, C., Tomlinson, S., & Van Reekum, C. M. (2018). Escape the bear and fall to the lion: The impact of avoidance availability on threat acquisition and extinction. Biological Psychology, 138, 73-80.

Nist, A. N., & Shahan, T. A. (2021). The Extinction Burst: Impact of reinforcement time and level of analysis on measured prevalence. Journal of the experimental analysis of behavior116(2), 131-148.