As part of the people watching that I engage in time to time, I often find myself peering into someone’s extinction burst (or even my own). Extinction bursts are a behavioural phenomena that sometimes occur during instances where one’s behaviour is no longer followed-up with its usual reinforcer. During an extinction burst, there is an increase in acting out from the repeated attempts to try and gain access to the expected reinforcer. Historically, the person has learned that in the presence of items/people A, when they do action B, it is followed by reinforcer C (i.e., the three-term contingency). Now all of a sudden that pattern is no longer happening and an extinction burst ensues.
A common everyday example of an extinction burst includes the reaction to not getting the pop/snack from the vending machine. You put in your money, you press the button, and out comes reinforcement in the form of the desired snack. When this does not work as expected, you press the button again and again. Maybe you kick the machine or attempt to shake it? This burst of activity is the extinction burst. If none of this works however, you eventually give up and walk away empty-handed. You may even avoid that vending machine in the future.
Today’s extinction burst alert is brought to you courtesy of my failed shower attempt (and rude awakening I might add). We seem to have lost hot water pressure in our building. In my sleepy haze I kept turning and turning the hot water tap expecting reinforcement (i.e., hot water) to occur. It did not. I may have said some choice words and I may have banged on the shower walls. None of that seemed to work and I gave up on having a shower in that moment. Because I have such a long and consistent learning history with shower taps always delivering hot water, I am likely to try again another time. Hopefully by then, my landlord has fixed the problem and my efforts can be reinforced once again.
Feelings get all wrapped up in there too: http://behaviouristatplay.tumblr.com/post/4234288294/feelings-nothing-more-than-feelings-part-ii
When we’re met with a door that won’t open: http://behaviouristatplay.tumblr.com/post/5788604530/why-wont-the-door-open