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What Is Extinction Psychology and Why Should We Care?

September 28, 2022    0 COMMENTS

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Psychology has many facets, and one of the most commonly studied areas is extinction psychology. It refers to the study of how we learn not to respond to certain stimuli in our environment. In other words, it studies how we unlearn excellent and wrong responses.

This can be difficult to grasp at first, but here’s an example you can use to see what I mean in your own life. If you’re feeling stressed, try practicing mindfulness or another relaxation technique before bed every night for two weeks.

Key Takeaways

Extinction is gradually removing an undesirable behavior, response, or stimulus, which is no longer effective.

There are four ways extinction can be used: Behaviorists use it to modify the actions of animals. Psychologists use it to treat anxiety disorders; advertisers use it to promote sales, and parents often use it on children.

The idea behind extinction psychology is that if a person has an irrational fear of something (such as spiders). They will eventually stop being afraid as they become less exposed to spiders over time. A psychologist might recommend exposure therapy for someone scared of public speaking.

Generally, the more intense or frequent the stimuli, the more quickly extinction occurs. So when a child throws a tantrum at Target because she wants one toy in particular and her mom won’t buy it for her. She’ll throw fewer tantrums when they return next weekโ€”if her mother remains firm in not buying the toy.

Here’s where things get complicated. In recent years, some evidence suggests this technique doesn’t always work out as planned.

Types of Extinction Psychology

Positive punishment is a form of extinction that removes the threat by making it impossible for the organism to do what’s being punished. An example would be a dog that has learned through repeated experience that when it jumps on people, it will push them off with force. This reinforcement works because the dog can no longer jump on people.

Negative reinforcement is a form of extinction in which something unpleasant stops once an organism does what’s being rewarded. An example of this reinforcement type is if a rat learns that food comes out when it presses a lever. The lever pressing becomes reinforced because it gets the rat food.

Punishment Punishment is when an unpleasant or painful stimulus occurs after someone does something wrong. An example could be parents who punish their children by spanking them or sending them to bed without dinner after they misbehave.

Delay Delay involves giving someone something pleasurable only after they have done what’s been asked of them first. Usually after some time has elapsed (e.g., If you go potty as we told you to, then you can have dessert).

Does Extinction Psychology Work with Humans?

The basic idea behind extinction psychology is that the more time a stimulus spends not being reinforced. The weaker it will be when you try to present it. This can be applied to structuralism psychology, where we often want our desired behaviors to get less intense over time. For example, if you want your pet dog to stop barking, you might try giving him a treat every time he barks. If that doesn’t work, you could go through a period where you give him treats each day but only when he’s not barking.ย 

Eventually, the reward for barking is so tiny that he’ll no longer do it. However, this process does not work for all human behaviors. It does not even work as well with animals as people would like to believe. One study found that rats in an experiment given shocks would continue to press on a lever when they knew they would get shocked. Even though they eventually started receiving more minor shocks or no shocks.ย 

So while animals and humans may behave differently in certain situations, the principles of extinction psychology still apply. Which means people should still be aware of how much attention they are paying to their desired behavior.

How Can Extinction Be Applied in Therapy?

Extinction is a type of learning that occurs when something no longer has the same effect on someone. For example, if you touch something hot that burns your skin, you’ll remember not to touch it next time. But if you touch it again and nothing happens. The memory will gradually fade until touching the object doesn’t trigger any response in you at all. This is called extinction learning.

The same thing can happen during therapy when people are conditioned to feel better after specific actions or thoughts. If they stop doing those things, their distress may return because the behavior that used to alleviate it has gone away. They must find an alternate way of dealing with the problem without relying on a specific action. This is where extinction comes into play.ย 

Psychologists might use this approach for addiction, for instance, by slowly weaning patients off drugs so that their craving for them eventually disappears altogether. Extinction can also be applied in psychotherapy when someone experiences obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other conditions where habits like checking doors or worrying excessively are often problematic and challenging to break free from.

Limitations and Applications of Extinction Learning

Extinction is a type of learning that causes us to stop responding to a stimulus if it no longer provides any reward. It is a form of operant conditioning in which we learn that something does not produce the desired outcome. To understand how extinction works, consider the example of Pavlov’s dogs. The dogs learned that when they heard the sound of a bell, they would be fed.

When Pavlov rang the bell but did not provide food, the dogs eventually stopped salivating to the sound alone because they had learned that ringing the bell didn’t lead to food anymore.ย With humans, extinction can also work in reverse psychology: just as we can become desensitized to rewards after repeated exposure (habituation). We can also become desensitized to punishments after repeated exposure (sensitization).

In addition, studies have found evidence for extinction-based addiction processes, namely, abstinence violation effect and withdrawal distress. These findings have important implications for treatment programs aimed at treating addiction.

Final Thoughts

It is a branch of behavioral psychology that focuses on stopping negative behaviors. It’s a process by which the subject is conditioned to associate unpleasant things with the behavior they try to stop. For example, you could use it to stop biting your nails by associating nail-biting with an unpleasant sensation such as an electric shock. This can be done through operant conditioning or classical conditioning.ย 

Operant conditioning is when rewards or punishments are given contingent on the subject’s behavior. Like giving someone money for every day they go without smoking. Classical conditioning uses stimuli that naturally produce an unconditioned response to create a new conditioned response, like pairing a picture of something delicious with broccoli so that people might start thinking of broccoli as being delicious instead of gross.

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I'm a blogger and psychiatrist. I created a blog website where I share new psychological updates, which helps people understand psychology terms. My updates help people to learn and understand human psychology.


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