Defining behavioral science: Extinction burst

What is an Extinction Burst? Sounds like something you want to avoid, right?

An extinction burst is a temporary increase in behavior to get the reward that you are used to getting. 

Look at the cartoon below.

Billy is hoping to get his mom’s attention. Based on his history of behavior in the past, he has probably gotten attention from mom when he cries, maybe even when he was hurt or scared. So, Billy is just using a proven tactic to get mom’s attention. He cries. Mom checks it out and sees that he isn’t hurt or scared, so she carries on. Undeterred, Billy gets louder and more ridiculous. Mom still does not respond, so Billy gives it one more extra hard try and mom finally gives in. 

Billy’s escalation is the extinction burst. He is used to getting attention when he cries. That isn’t working so he escalates his behavior because his access to attention has been denied (extinguished). He’s hoping that if he gets extra annoying, he will continue to get what he used to get. 

Why does it matter? Because if parents see an escalation in behavior and they want it to be temporary, they need to make sure bad behavior doesn’t work to get good things. 

Save yourself from a momentary lapse in judgement that leads to the mother of all extinction bursts (link) 


Contact Us


Subscribe for More Info