In both classical and operant conditioning, extinction is a process of reducing or eliminating a learned behavior by stopping the reinforcements that have previously maintained it. Classical extinction occurs when a conditioned stimulus is presented by itself without an unconditioned stimulus until the conditioned response decreases overtime until it no longer exists. Classical extinction can be identified in many day to day life scenarios but varies for each individual. For example, if an individual is afraid of dogs due to a negative experience such as being attacked by their neighbor's large and aggressive dog, their conditioned response of fear will slowly become extinct by exposing them to positive experiences with friendly dogs.

    Additionally, operant extinction is the slow elimination of a behavior once the reinforcer is taken away. It is likely that when a behavior is no longer being reinforced it may become extinct. Mental health professionals commonly use operant extinction when working with families. For example, parents of children who constantly throw tantrums to receive attention are instructed to ignore that behavior until eventually the child learns that behavior is no longer effective. Another example would be if a group of friends were having a dinner party and one of the friends invited was exhibiting loud and obnoxious behavior. The rest of the group should ignore the behavior instead of giving a response that would likely reinforce the obnoxious behavior.

    Extinction is a great tool used to approach behavior modifications, however there are some challenges that may come with it. An extinction burst is likely to occur once the reinforcement has been taken away and is defined as a sudden and dramatic increase of unwanted behavior. This phenomenon is common in children who are no longer getting attention from their parents for throwing a tantrum. It is important to note that extinction may not get rid of the unwanted behavior in every situation, so it’s not always the best choice of behavioral intervention.


Leaf Wing Center. (2022). Extinction burst. LeafWing Center.


Palo Alto University (n.d). Getting rid of a behavior you don’t like. Concept. https://concept.paloaltou.edu/resources/business-of-practice-blog/behavior-you-dont-like

Powell, R. A., Symbaluk, D. G., & Honey, P. L. (2023). Introduction to learning and behavior. Cengage.