Extinction and Side Effects

     Extinction is a complex topic that has many interesting side effects. To begin, extinction with regard to operant conditioning is when a response that was reinforced in the past is now not reinforced. This leads to a decrease in the response strength. The side effects of extinction include extinction burst, increase in variability, emotional behavior, aggression, resurgence, and depression. (Powell et al., 2015) The four side effects I will focus on are extinction burst, increase in variability, depression, and aggression. Starting with extinction burst, this is when the frequency of a response increases when the extinction procedure is put into place. An example of this is as follows: You take your child to the bank and in order to keep them satisfied and eliminate their complaining, you give them a lollipop. When on one of your bank trips you decide to cease giving your child a lollipop, instead of the complaining stopping, the child may complain even more in hopes of receiving the lollipop. (Bryan) Moving on, an increase in variability means that the response that was once being reinforced may change when it is not reinforced. Continuing with the example about the bank, the child's behavior when not receiving a lollipop could go from complaining to whining and screaming. This behavior is understandable for both side effects mentioned because when an individual is not given something that they are used to obtaining, the confusion or frustration may alter their behavior resulting in an increase or change that might grant them the attention or object they desire.

    Next, depression can be further explained through the example of a breakup. When a person is no longer reinforced by the presence of their former partner, they might experience feelings of sadness that impact their daily activities. Lastly, aggression can be a common side effect of extinction which can lead to harm towards other organisms or objects. An applied study looked at individuals who were getting treatment for self-harming behavior using extinction. Out of the 41 sets of data, about half of the individuals had an increase in aggression during the procedure. (Lerman et al.) An example of aggression that I have experienced was with my dog who would beg at the table when my family and I ate dinner. When we would eat, she usually exhibited the behaviors of crying and barking. However, if those behaviors did not get her the food that she wanted, occasionally she would jump up and try to grab the food off of one of our plates. It was evident that she was angry and could not control herself, so the only way she felt she could express this was to use a more aggressive behavior to try to obtain the reinforcer of food.

In this visual, the animal pulled the lever down hoping to obtain food. When the food was not given, the animal had an extinction burst and tried to pull down the lever more.  

Powell, R.A., Honey, P. L., & Symbaluk, D. G. (2015). Introduction to Learning and Behavior. Cengage Learning.

Bryan, P. (2020, June 24). Extinction Bursts: It's Going to Get Worse Before It Gets Better. Evoke Therapy Programs.

Lerman, D. C., Iwata, B. A., & Wallace, M. D. (1999). Side Effects of Extinction: Prevalence of Bursting and Aggression During the Treatment of Self-Injurious Behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 32(1), 1-8.