Extinction occurs when behavior with a history of being reinforced no longer results in access to reinforcement. Extinction is generally put into place for behaviors we want to see less of, and should only be used in combination with reinforcement for appropriate replacement behaviors.
Extinction may be illustrated in a variety of ways depending on the reason the behavior is occurring. For example, if you have a coworker who consistently complains (inappropriate behavior), and you notice that the more you respond the more they complain to you, it may be that complaining occurs for the attention they receive (function). If you continue to provide attention for complaining, it is likely complaining will continue to happen in the future. However, if you avoid eye contact and continue to work when your coworker complains—that is, complaining no longer results in attention (extinction procedure)—complaining will begin to decrease and may stop occurring (extinction occurs). At the same time, you may respond and make eye contact only when your coworker makes positive statements (reinforcement of replacement behavior).
As another example, let’s imagine your daughter is pushing her younger brother (inappropriate behavior). The BCBA has determined the pushing occurs to receive vocal attention from mom and dad (function). Understandably, as a parent you want the aggression to stop, and your BCBA will collaborate with you to teach alternative ways for your daughter to get your attention in a safe manner. Your BCBA may suggest teaching your daughter how to request attention by saying “look at me,” or requesting to play a game together (replacement behavior). and support you in giving lots of attention when these replacement behaviors occur. You and your BCBA will also discuss how to ignore the pushing while keeping everyone safe—for example, standing in between your children when your daughter moves toward her brother, but looking away and saying nothing (extinction procedure). This may be hard to do at first, but your BCBA will work with you to help determine the best way to withhold attention for pushing while also keeping your children safe. The goal of the extinction procedure is to reduce pushing behavior while introducing or increasing reinforcement for appropriate ways to gain attention.
|Inappropriate Behavior||Function (reason)||Extinction procedure||Replacement behavior|
|Yelling||Escape from school work||Turn away and say nothing when yelling occurs||Request for break|
|Complaining||Attention from coworkers||Look away or continue to work||Positive statements|
If you have questions regarding your child’s behavior, your BCBA will be your best resource. If you’re interested in receiving early intervention services, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to see if there is a provider in your area.
By Jami Hardy, MS, BCBA, LGPC