Instrumental Conditioning also known as Operant conditioning is a type of learning in which an individual’s behavior is modified by its consequences or reinforcement in certain situations. When operant behavior that has been previously reinforced and now no longer produces reinforcing consequences the behavior goes through the extinction process. An extinction burst happens at the start of the extinction process. During the extinction burst the behavior increases dramatically for a short period of time before it starts to decrease. The best example is a soda vending machine. Every time you put money into a soda vending machine you expect to get a drink when you hit the button. If the button doesn’t work you hit the button again and again until you give up after realizing that behavior is never going to get you your soda. Hitting the button multiple times is an extinction burst. During extinction organisms become extremely frustrated.
Children are especially perceptive to reinforcement of behavior. Most toddlers go through multiple extinction burst, most parents call them temper tantrums. Parents must realize that a tantrum is a completely logical and common response to a new situation of reinforcement. The child isn’t acting out because they hate you or want you to suffer; they just have come to expect certain reinforcement for their behavior, just like a vending machine. When you change the route of what has always been you are putting that behavior on extinction. Next time your child throws a tantrum just realize that you are in total control, if you were not then the child’s behavior wouldn’t change and they would not be acting out. The best course of action is to just ride it out because it will stop eventually and everyone will be better afterwards. The extinction burst will end trust me! If you give in and reinforce that behavior after the temper tantrum then behavior will continue and the child learned that throwing a tantrum is how they get what they want and it will take much longer to break the unwanted behavior. The next time you see a parent in and their child is throwing a tantrum give them an encouraging smile because they are using operant conditioning to get rid of unwanted behavior!