What is an Extinction Burst?

An extinction burst refers to one’s reaction to a stimulus that once produced positive reinforcements, but that ceases to exist. If an individual responds to a particular stimulus and is rewarded for his response, he will continue to react appropriately even once the reward ceases. His behavior will increase in order to bring the reward back, and this, by definition, is the “burst” which is encouraged by the extinction of the reward.

What is an example of an extinction burst?

An example of an extinction burst follows:

When one puts money in a vending machine, he then pushes the buttons indicating his selection. If nothing comes out of the machine, it is likely that he will push the buttons again and again. This increase in pushing the buttons can be defined as an extinction burst. Since this individual has, in the past, experienced that putting money in a vending machines results in receiving his food selection, he expects this to be the outcome now, as well. When the outcome is different from what he expects, his behavior increases (i.e. the pushing of the buttons) in order to demand the reward (i.e. the food) he expected. The extinction of the reward has thus caused a burst in reinforcing the initial behavior.