Extinction Burst: Why It Gets Worse Before Getting Better

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Pamela Li


An extinction burst is a sudden increase in the frequency, intensity, or duration of an organism’s operant behavior just before it extinguishes.

Extinction is often used to decrease undesired behavior in children​ such as aggression​, self-injurious behavior​, and property destruction​.

Extinction can be an effective treatment in removing maladaptive behaviors

Extinction bursts makes it difficult to determine whether the behavioral interventions are effective or not.

For example, unsuitable treatment may continue longer than it should if incompatibility is mistaken for extinction burst. Potentially effective treatment may be stopped too early if an extinction burst is mistaken for negative end result.



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Li, Pamela. “Extinction Burst: Why It Gets Worse Before Getting Better.” Parenting For Brain, 13 Apr. 2022, https://www.parentingforbrain.com/extinction-burst/.


Science of Belief Change


Amanda Morton

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When talking with your loved and trying to bring them back to reality, you may notice they throw up defenses in an attempt to ignore or minimize any information that would challenge their conspiracy worldview.

Understand that we all are victim to various cognitive biases that protect our ego from being wrong. We look to every other thing before we are finally willing to change our mind about something.

So the concept of an "extinction burst" may be helpful, when your loved one seems more entrenched than ever.

Sometimes just before someone is about to change their behavior (or mind), they act out even more. This might look like anger, sadness, shame, embarrassment, aggression. It's possible they have to "use up" all their negative emotions before they finally are able to change their mind.

We're not saying stick around when the other person is abusive. But keep in mind if you're seeing an increase in difficult behavior, it COULD be a sign that they're close to a big revelation.