The Extinction Burst
by juliewolf, Fri May 09, 2008 at 01:27:43 AM EDT
If you study behavioral psychology, you'll learn about a concept called "the extinction burst."
The specific example I use when I teach is this:
You've got a child who is throwing tantrums. In the past, the tantrums have gotten the child attention, which is exactly what the child wants. Therefore, you have been providing positive reinforcement to that child's behavior. It's "positive" because you're adding something (attention), not because it's good. It's "reinforcement" because it increases the behavior.
The much more effective approach to reducing tantrums is negative punishment. "Negative" because you're removing something and "punishment" because it reduces the behavior. When we talk about "punishment" in behavioral psychology we don't necessarily mean anything specific; it's just any act in a behavioral context which reduces the frequency of a given behavior.
But here's why many parents don't use negative punishment: the extinction burst.
You have a child who's throwing tantrums and you decide to reduce the tantrums through not paying attention. You try to ignore them completely. This will generally work. But before it works, it gets worse. The child, knowing that the tantrums have worked in the past, thinks that the tantrums are just not loud enough.
So they get worse, before they fade out entirely.
This last ditch effort to make the tantrums work is the aforementioned "extinction burst." It's perfectly human: something that has worked in the past is losing its power so you don't try something different. You do what you've been doing all along, but push harder.
Here are some examples of the extinction burst in action:
Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed Wednesday to continue her quest for the Democratic nomination, arguing she would be the stronger nominee because she appeals to a wider coalition of voters -- including whites who have not supported Barack Obama in recent contests.
"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."
With virtually no chance of catching Obama in the popular vote or among pledged delegates, Clinton and her strategists have pinned their hope on persuading superdelegates -- elected officials and party activists -- that she would be the stronger Democrat to run against McCain.
Harold Ickes, who heads the Clinton campaign's outreach to superdelegates, has acknowledged discussing Obama's controversial former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, with superdelegates, saying Wright's incendiary anti-American sermons and other comments could alienate voters in the fall.
Camp Hillary is rejecting the new plan floated today by Michigan Dems that would seat the delegation by awarding 69 delegates to Hillary and 59 to Obama.
On May 20th, BO will stand before us - place the crown on his own head - and tell the people who have yet to vote that he's our nominee because he's reached some magic number of pledged delegates. Screw Michigan and Florida. Screw the Superdelegates. He figures he'll have the majority of the pledged delegates so to hell with Hillary and to hell with the millions who have voted for her and are looking forward to deciding this according to the RULES as laid out by our party.
Another Recommended post at myDD:
So...yes, it appears that Barack Obama is very scared. Scared of the people in Florida, Michigan, West Virginia, Kentucky, Puerto Rico; scared of the Democratic process; and possibly scared that more of his skeletons will pop out of the closet before June. I can't really say, don't know what he's thinking, but Jeez, Senator, let Democracy be!
Sorry to say, it's going to keep getting uglier and more shrill before we can move past this and accept that we've got a nominee.
That's how the extinction burst works.