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.
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
Part 8: Training With High Rates Of Reinforcement
Part 9: Cues and Extinction
Part 10: PORTL
Part 11: Mastering Extinction
Part 12: Creativity Explored
Part 13: Degrees of Freedom
Part 14: The Positive Side of Resurgence
If you are new to this series, I suggest you begin with Part 1
Part 14: The Positive Side of Resurgence
Building Unlikely Behaviors with Resurgence
Jesús reminded us that nothing is either all good or all bad. We want to use positive reinforcement with our animals because we see it as effective and more humane. But positive reinforcement doesn’t always produce desirable outcomes. In people it can lead to addictions to harmful behaviors such as over eating or gambling.
Resurgence and regression can be very negative procedures, but they can also be used to produce what might otherwise be very difficult behaviors to obtain.
Jesús again used PORTL to illustrate how this can work. In one video example, a trainer set a toy chair on the table for her learner to interact with. The goal was to get the learner to push the chair over the table the way she might push a toy car. The learner began to interact with the chair, but not in a way that would lead to pushing it. Why? Because history matters. The learner is going to bring back all of her history, all of her previous repertoire of chair behaviors as she experiments. Pushing it like a car is very unlikely because that’s not how she would have interacted with this kind of object in the past.
The same would be true if the trainer had set down a dice. The learner would have tossed the dice or shaken it in her hand because that’s in the reinforcement history of that object. Pushing a dice over the table like a toy car would probably be much harder to get.
Instead of trying to shape the behavior through small approximations, the trainer used resurgence. Her first step was getting the learner to touch the chair consistently. The learner in this video was not particularly creative. She touched the chair, but she didn’t try any other behaviors. Getting her to push it was going to be hard.
So the trainer took the chair away and set out a toy car. Using an object that normally would be pushed made it very easy to get the desired behavior. The learner pushed the car over the table top. Click and treat.
This was repeated several times and then the trainer took the car away and set the chair out. The learner went back to touching it. The chair accidentally fell over – click and treat. The learner latched on to that, expanding her repertoire to two behaviors – touching the chair and knocking it over. She persisted in knocking it over even when she did not get reinforced for the action. Everything but pushing it like a car was put on extinction – meaning the trainer no longer reinforced her for these behaviors.
To avoid escalating the learner’s frustration, the trainer took the chair away and set the car out again. The learner immediately started pushing the car over the table top. Click and treat.
To help with the generalization the trainer put a third object out – a small block. The learner pushed the block. Click and treat. This was repeated several times, then the trainer took the block away and set out the car. The car was pushed. Click and treat.
The trainer set the chair out and the learner pushed the chair. Job done.
Resurgence and Dog “Yoga”
Jesús next showed an example of using resurgence to train a dog to step with his hind legs onto a chair.
The dog was taught through a series of very carefully managed steps. First, the dog learned to stand one foot each on four small plastic pods. This alone was impressive training. The pods were the same ones physiotherapists use to help people improve their balance and proprioception. It took great coordination for the dog to stay balanced on the four pods. But that was only step 1. Next he learned to keep his front feet on the pods while he maneuvered his hind feet up onto the brick ledge of a fireplace hearth.
This was not done as a cute party trick. The dog’s owner is a yoga teacher. Her interest was very much the same as mine – helping her animal to maintain a healthy spine.
The last step was setting up a training session next to a chair. The handler withheld the click, putting the dog into an extinction process. With very little experimentation, the dog oriented himself so his hind end was to the chair. He certainly demonstrated the flexibility of his spine by stepping up onto the chair with his hind legs so he was standing hind end up on the chair and front feet on the floor.
Generalization and Creativity
Jesús commented that if we didn’t know about resurgence we would be saying the dog generalized. But generalization had nothing to do with it. What we were seeing was resurgence. Kay added that for her this process is what is meant by creativity. It isn’t waiting and waiting for the dog to do something new. Instead we give them a whole range of behaviors, and they come up with a new or unlikely combination. What Jesús was showing us was a procedure for setting up the creative process. You give the animal the repertoire, the components of more complex behaviors, and then you set up a puzzle and let extinction be the catalyst for solving it.
Coming soon: Part 15: Going Micro
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: