Extinction (psychology)

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Extinction ( Latin exstinguere = to extinguish, to delete) is called in the behavioristic learning theories a learning process after which the conditioned or instrumental reaction is no longer shown. This is neither forgetting nor unlearning, but rather an "additional" learning that temporarily and context-dependent overrides the effect of the conditioned stimulus .

Important features of extinction are spontaneous recovery , renewal, and reinstatement . Spontaneous recovery means that the extinction learning only has a temporary effect, i.e. that after a certain time after the extinction training has been completed, the conditioned behavior occurs again. With renewal is called the observation that the extinction learning is context sensitive, so only acts in the learning environment. If the conditional stimulus is tested in the extinction context at a later point in time, lower conditional or instrumental responses will be shown compared to a test in a different context (either in the original learning context or in a completely new context). Reinstatement describes the phenomenon that a repeated (and not coupled with the conditioned stimulus) presentation of the unconditional stimulus leads to the conditioned stimulus being followed by a conditioned reaction.

The extinction plays a role in both classical and operant conditioning. In extinction training (procedure that leads to extinction as opposed to extinction learning, which specifies the decrease in the reaction as a result of extinction training and extinction, the underlying theoretical process) in classical conditioning, the conditional stimulus (CS) is so often without The following unconditional stimulus (US) is presented until the CS no longer triggers a conditional response. Similarly, with instrumentally learned behavior, the stimulus is presented without subsequent reinforcement until the behavior no longer occurs.

Classic conditioning

A dog that has learned that it is always fed (UCS) after the sound of a bell (CS), secretes saliva after the bell has sounded (conditional response, CR). However, if the bell is no longer followed by feeding, then the salivation (CR) also decreases. Strictly speaking, it follows from Pavlov's theory that a conditional reflex, once acquired, can never be completely erased. It is only inhibited by the absence of the unconditioned stimulus (US). Pavlov himself never used the term extinction; he always wrote of inhibition and weakening. In the English translation it became extinction . Since Pavlov's works were then translated from English into German (instead of directly from Russian), the translation error also established itself in German as a technical term (extinction or deletion).

Another theoretical explanation of extinction was provided by the Rescorla-Wagner model in the early 1970s . In fact, the process of extinction is over-implicated there, since effects of spontaneous recovery, renewal, and reinstatement could not be explained by the model presented.


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