Target Term: Operant Extinction
Definition: Withholding all reinforcement from a previously reinforced behavior maintained by its consequences.
Example in everyday context: Allie connects with someone through a dating site, and they exchange multiple emails. Allie’s email-writing behavior is maintained by the consequence of receiving an email back. After a few weeks, Allie stops receiving any response to her messages.
Example in clinical context: A patient flicks the light switch on an off which makes the lights in their room go on and off. Hospital staff disconnect the light from the switch, so the patient can still flick the switch, but the light does not come on. Access to the reinforcer (lights on and off) has been withheld.
Example in supervision/consultation context: A student engages in screaming to gain attention from caregivers and peers. Previously, the teacher and other students would give the student a lot of attention for screaming. Today, the teachers and the rest of the class begin to completely withhold attention contingent on the screaming behavior.
Why it matters: Clinically, extinction should be considered as part of a comprehensive treatment package involving teaching replacement skills. Behavior analysts should prepare for extinction bursts and possibly extinction induced aggression when implementing extinction.