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 7 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 6: Accidental Extinction
Part 7: Emotions
If you have not yet read the previous articles, I suggest you begin with Part 1.
Part 7: Emotions
Shaping With Micro Versus Macro Extinction
When someone is shaping and they want to raise the criterion, they stop reinforcing for a behavior that was just successful. The learner goes through a resurgence/regression process. She begins to offer other behaviors that have worked in the past.
People tend to think of extinction as happening over a long period of time, but Jesús kept emphasizing that it happens over seconds. Two to three seconds is all you need for a mini extinction. You’ll begin to see the learner offering behavior other than the one that was previously reinforced.
Again this got my attention. I don’t like the frustration you see when a puzzle appears to be unsolvable. Shaping shouldn’t be marked by sharp drop offs in reinforcement. I don’t want to see macro extinctions. If reinforcement is that sticky, it’s time to take a break. Either put the horse away altogether while you go have a think, or regroup by shifting to another activity. If you keep waiting, waiting, waiting until your learner finally gets close to the answer, you could lock in some unwanted behavior, and you will almost certainly lock in some unwanted emotions.
Jesús pointed out that we use words such as “the animal was being emotional.” But really what does that mean? Jesús’ comment was: “we are always emotional. It isn’t that the extinction process produces emotions. All processes produce emotions.”
That’s such a good reminder. We tend to think about emotions when they are the size of a five alarm fire, but really we are always “being emotional”. There are emotions associated with all behaviors. Ideally in training we’d like to avoid the five-alarm-fire type. That’s why it is so important to understand these processes. The sooner you recognize that you are in an extinction process, the sooner you can do something to get out of it.
First, you see response bursting. A rat has been reinforced consistently for pressing a lever. Abruptly the lever pressing no longer works. The rat will press the lever with even more energy trying to get it to work. This has been equated with the classic hitting the button over and over again on the vending machine when your coke doesn’t fall out.
In the next stage you get angry. Now you’re kicking the coke machine.
Next you see regression. What behaviors have you seen modeled? What is your past history when things like this fail?
Then there is a pause followed by another period of response bursting. Gradually the cycles become less until the individual settles into a calmer stage of acceptance.
Some psychologists have equated this pattern with the stages people go through when they are grieving. When you lose a loved one, a job, a home, you are thrown into an extinction process. Your loved one is gone. No change in your behavior is going to bring back the one you’re grieving for. Your reinforcers are gone and your behavior is ineffective. Nothing you do will change the reality of your loss.
The stages of grief begin with denial, followed by anger, then depression, bargaining, and finally acceptance and a return to a meaningful life.
It’s interesting to see the comparison people make between these two processes. Understanding does bring with it coping skills. If you understand the process you are in, you can keep things in perspective and find your way out of emotional tangles faster. You can also be more understanding towards others (horse or human) if they are caught up in an extinction process.
Coming Soon: Part 8: Training With High Rates Of Reinforcement
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