Saturday, December 21, 2013

Learning - Extinction

In the last byte, we looked at punishment and how it could be used to drive a desired behavior. In today's byte, we look at using extinction to weaken a behavior.

Extinction is a means of weakening a behavior by not attaching any consequences to the action. It is a bit unclear until we take an example to understand this better.

Assume you have a colleague who is generally passing around sarcastic comments - one approach that as a listener you could take is not reacting to it. This would definitely weaken the enthusiasm and the spirit of the colleague to continue using sarcasm. To reinforce the desirable behavior further, it would be extremely good if you could combine the use of extinction by using positive reinforcement. In this case, you could complement the colleague for constructive comments (positive reinforcement) and ignore the sarcastic comments (extinction)

The rationale for using extinction is that a behavior not followed by any consequence is weakened. One would require patience and time to see it really work.

If one is to decide between extinction and punishment as a thumb rule, one could check what the behavior is likely to be. If the behavior is dangerous, then punishment is preferred to deliver a quick and clear lesson.

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