5GoToSea: Pt. 5: Extinction Reveals The Past

Resurgence and Regression: Understanding Extinction So You Can Master It

From a presentation given by Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz during the 2014 Five Go To Sea Conference cruise.

This is Part 5 of a 15 Part series.

Part 1: The Elevator Question
Part 2: The Translation to Horses: Is Personality Expressed or Suppressed?
Part 3: Unraveling the Regression Mess
Part 4: Extinction and Shaping
Part 5: Extinction Reveals The Past

Part 5: Extinction Reveals The Past

The Extinction Process
In the previous section I  said that extinction produces resurgence and regression.  I went on to talk about extinction without defining it.  In general we understand the meaning of that term, at least how we would use it in everyday language.

Here’s the definition Jesús gave us:

“When reinforcement is no longer forthcoming, when a response becomes less and less frequent, you get operant extinction.”

How does this play out?  What do you see in your animals?

In the controlled environments of a lab experiment, here is what you might see:  A rat is being reinforced consistently for pressing a lever.  When that behavior is well established, the experimenter no longer reinforces lever pressing.  When the behavior fails to pay off, the rat shows a sudden flurry of lever pressing behavior.  When this fails, the rat exhibits more aggressive types of behaviors.  In humans we would equate this to the behavior you see when vending machines fail.  You start out jiggling the knobs and progress towards pounding on the machine.

rat 2The aggressive behavior is followed by a period of the rat giving up.  He ignores the lever.  Then the rat tries again with a flurry of activity, trying to see if the original, reinforced behavior is once again working. The whole cycle repeats itself, but the bursts get smaller and smaller, and the pauses in between become longer.

Throughout all of this process the rat is clearly experiencing emotions we would not want to see in our horses.  When lever pressing fails to work, the rats become aggressive.  In our horses we see displacement aggression.  The horse is frustrated.  A behavior which was reliable is no longer working.  If other horses are nearby, you may see the horse pin his ears and snake his neck out to warn the others away.  Or he may grab at his lead rope, or nip at the handler’s sleeve.

Remember – you are seeing behavior that has been modeled for this horse.  You are seeing his training history.  And perhaps you are also seeing his herd background.  If he’s lived in crowded/confined conditions that promote more horse to horse aggression, it’s possible that’s what you’ll see acted out.

It would be interesting to look at two groups of horses – one containing horses that grew up in stable herds living in large, open spaces.  The other would have horses that were raised in much more confined spaces where competition for resources created more horse to horse aggressive interactions.  What difference, if any, would you see when these horses are exposed to a mild extinction process?  What behaviors would regression reveal?  What does your knowledge of your own horse’s background predict?

For horses with known backgrounds it would be interesting to collect data on their behavior when they are faced with a mild extinction process.  If you know the conditions under which your horse was raised, what type of behaviors would you expect to see during an extinction process?  Would he be the one “banging on the coke machine”, or would he cope well with the change in reinforcement rates?

Coming Soon: Part 6: Accidental Extinction

Please note: If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

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