Basics of Extinction

Behavior extinction is a principle in psychology and behavior analysis that refers to the decrease in frequency or cessation of a previously learned behavior that has been consistently ignored or not reinforced. This occurs because the behavior is no longer being reinforced, and as a result, the behavior loses its motivation or “reinforcing value.”

Behavior extinction is a powerful tool for changing behavior and is often used in applied settings, such as in the treatment of behavioral disorders, education, and organizational behavior management. For example, if a child has a habit of throwing tantrums to get their way, a teacher or parent could ignore the tantrums and instead reinforce alternative, more appropriate behaviors (e.g., calmly asking for what they want). Over time, the frequency of tantrums is likely to decrease because the behavior is no longer being reinforced.

It’s important to note that behavior extinction can take time and patience, as the behavior may initially increase in frequency before it begins to decrease. This is because the behavior is still being reinforced by its previous consequences, and the person may try harder to get the reinforcement. However, if the reinforcement is consistently ignored, the behavior is likely to eventually decrease and eventually stop.

In summary, behavior extinction is the process of reducing or eliminating a behavior by ignoring or not reinforcing it, resulting in the behavior losing its reinforcing value over time.

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