The Extinction Burst

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:

USA Today:

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."

Yahoo News:

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.

Talking Points Memo:

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.

A Recommended post at MyDD:

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.

Tags: 2008, clinton, president, Psychology, Teaching (all tags)

Comments

26 Comments

Another great psychology lesson from the far-left

Thanks for posting; this is really helpful to building party unity.  Good timing too.  

by BPK80 2008-05-09 01:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Another great psychology lesson from the far-l

hahaha! The sarcasm's way funnier than this diary. Good one..

by optimisticBoy 2008-05-09 04:05AM | 0 recs
Re: The Extinction Burst

You know exactly how to piss off people. LMAO

by indydem99 2008-05-09 01:47AM | 0 recs
Re: The Extinction Burst

It's my gift :)

by juliewolf 2008-05-09 02:00AM | 0 recs
Re: The Extinction Burst

This is a brave woman.

by catilinus 2008-05-09 02:20AM | 0 recs
Re: The Extinction Burst

Not really.  I figure the worst that will happen is that my MyDD account will get yanked and the best is that I'll get lots more examples of the Extinction Burst in play when people try to attack me for this diary.  

by juliewolf 2008-05-09 02:31AM | 0 recs
Re: The Extinction Burst

Troll rating offset.

(Hi Julie)

by odum 2008-05-09 03:29AM | 0 recs
Re: The Extinction Burst

Careful.  That's a good way to get your ratings yanked.

by juliewolf 2008-05-09 03:30AM | 0 recs
A thanks to Jerome

Jerome-- I don't agree with you on a lot of things, but I respect that you were willing to step in an uprate this post to offset the abuse of troll ratings here even though I've probably managed to insult your point of view several times over in this post.

by juliewolf 2008-05-09 07:50AM | 0 recs
More therapy for Hillary...

From Larry David:

[...]A few weeks ago, I started to feel sorry for her. Oh Christ, let her win already...Who cares...It's not worth it. There's not that much difference between them. She can have it. Anything to avoid watching her descend into madness. So I switched. I started rooting for her. It wasn't that hard. Compromise comes easy to me. I was on board.

And then I saw the ad.

I watched, transfixed, as she took the 3 a.m. call...and I was afraid...very afraid. Suddenly, I realized the last thing this country needs is that woman anywhere near a phone. I don't care if it's 3 a.m. or 10 p.m. or any other time. I don't want her talking to Putin, I don't want her talking to Kim Jong Il, I don't want her talking to my nephew. She needs a long rest. She needs to put on a sarong and some sun block and get away from things for a while, a nice beach somewhere -- somewhere far away, where there are...no phones.

by Dumbo 2008-05-09 02:16AM | 0 recs
Out of curiousity, which candidate does his ex-

wife support?  The one who is taking half his Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm money?

If you say Hillary, I think I know why he doesn't support her anymore.

by PJ Jefferson 2008-05-09 03:03AM | 0 recs
But if they ban your account, how will you run

over here to defend your Dear Leader every single time anyone ever posts anything negative about him or his website here?

From my experience, it seems the only time you "grace us" with your presence is to suck up to Markos Moulitsas and protect him from people voicing... gasp... the truth about him, his actions, his past, or his website.

What will happen if your account is banned, and I post something negative (but true of course) about Markos?  How will you live without the ability to kiss his ass by coming here to defend him?

by PJ Jefferson 2008-05-09 03:01AM | 0 recs
Awesome!

This is exactly the sort of personal attack I expected.

by juliewolf 2008-05-09 03:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Awesome!

man these people really hate Kos!

by obamaovermccain 2008-05-09 03:08AM | 0 recs
Re: Awesome!

...a tad.

by catilinus 2008-05-09 03:43AM | 0 recs
Which is exactly why you should be banned.

Your diary had nothing to do with politics. You came from Daily Kos to MyDD to write a diary intending to insult people and hurt their feelings, because you're cocky that Daily Kos' candidate has won, and you're a sore and classless (fangirl of a) winner, and basically kind of an asshole.  You posted this diary in hope not of starting political discussion or furthering democracy, but to start a flame war, with full knowledge that doing so would be a bannable offense, and you've admitted it.

In fact, if the admins don't ban your account, it would be an implied statement of approval of this kind of crap.  Its on you now, admins.

by PJ Jefferson 2008-05-09 03:17AM | 0 recs
I'll say this once

getting banned on here would not bother me but it would amuse me.

I posted this diary, knowing full well that it would piss some people off, but I haven't flamed anyone, nor have I made any personal attacks (unlike at least two comments in this thread so far) on anyone.

What I have done is point out a dynamic which is actually quite common and put it in a political context.  Personally, I think a lot of what goes on on MyDD these days is one great big extinction burst: you can't acknowledge that your candidate is losing, so the rhetoric and vitrol gets over ramped.  

This is a privately owned site, so that's fine, but it's also fine for me to point that out when I see it, just as it's fine for the admins to ban anyone they wish and for you to advocate that anyone who dissents from their points of view should be purged from the site.

So take what I wrote as you will, and please do feel free to continue making personal attacks on me and engaging in name-calling.  I'm sure you'll get lots of support here for doing so.  

I will, on the other hand, continue to speak the truth when I see it, and post what I think is relevant until that day when I am banned.  And then I will just continue to post it in other places.

by juliewolf 2008-05-09 03:29AM | 0 recs
Re: I'll say this once
What saddens me is that diaries like yours will continue to drive people away from Obama, at a time when every vote will be needed.
But you just keep posting, Julie, and keep reminding us of all the hope and desire for change that Obama inspires in his supporters.
It's truly enlightening.
by skohayes 2008-05-09 03:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Which is exactly why you should be banned.

Uh, I think she was using sarcasm in her reply. She cares deeply about politics.

Using obcene language, to wit, calling her an asshole, I believe is also bannable. Argue all you want, but please don't use obscene language.

Throwing a temper tantrum with obscene language will not get you what you want, whatever that may be.  

by catilinus 2008-05-09 03:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Which is exactly why you should be banned.

Throwing a temper tantrum with obscene language will not get you what you want, whatever that may be.

But it will prove my point.

by juliewolf 2008-05-09 03:38AM | 0 recs
Re: Which is exactly why you should be banned.

Yes, the poster attacking you with gross language did seem to be on your side in a strange way.

by catilinus 2008-05-09 03:45AM | 0 recs
Re: The Extinction Burst

I knew someone like you. He too spewed the "study behavioral psychology." He was a social worker; His kid was well known in the neighborhood for having behavioral problems. None of the other kids wanted to hang around him.

by soyousay 2008-05-09 03:18AM | 0 recs
Don't concern yourself.

Plenty of us in Vermont enjoy Julie's company very much.

by odum 2008-05-09 03:32AM | 0 recs
Yeah, but for every one of you...

...I quietly intimidate three people in New Hampshire.

by juliewolf 2008-05-09 03:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Don't concern yourself.

Great. Her analogy sucks though; IMO, anyway :D

by soyousay 2008-05-09 03:43AM | 0 recs
I have no problem with that.

There are lots of ways to view this particular situation.  I'm presenting my point of view on it.  I think there's room for disagreement here.  One of the reasons I still read MyDD is because of Todd's posts, which show real room for disagreement.  

So sure, my analogy might suck, and if you want to have a discussion about what analogy might be better suited to the situation, I'd be glad to hear it.

I'll mention something that I posted in the comments on this diary on 'Kos, under the heading This reminds me of my first year in college:

...when I was this incredible guitar player (I'm much more incredible now, but I digress) who thought I was just all that.  Then I blew an audition and didn't make the first cut for the jazz band.  

The thing is, I was a better guitarist than the guy who got in, but I just didn't demonstrate that at the time.  

I was pissed when this happened, and it took me a couple years to realize what had gone wrong: my own arrogance got in the way of my performance and I got shaken up by that.  I was just not mature enough to handle defeat and I wasn't used to handling defeat.

I think Clinton's going through something similar, on a much bigger scale.  She's never personally lost an election but she's also never been the primary focus of a national campaign and she's just not measuring up the way she expected to.  

I don't know if Clinton would have been better or worse than Obama in the general election (I think she would have been worse but no way to tell for certain), but she hasn't demonstrated herself to have been better as a candidate or a campaigner than Obama and that's all that really matters.


by juliewolf 2008-05-09 07:16AM | 0 recs

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