Ignoring unwanted behaviours

Ignoring unwanted behaviours (generally the aim is extinction as the assumption is that the behaviour is being maintained by reinforcement) is stressful for the learner and is often inneffective as the reinforcer maintaining the behaviour has not been correctly identified.

In addition, I have never seen anyone ignore an unwanted behaviour. No matter how hard people try there is a change in body language that acts as a reinforcer for the behaviour. That means extinction will not be occurring and the strategy will be ineffective.

Instead of attempting extinction in this way (we can’t avoid extinction but we can make it at a micro level….subject of a previous post) choose the behaviour you would like in place of the unwanted behaviour. Train it well using reinforcement and then reinforce at times when the unwanted behaviour would be triggered (when the environment, discriminative stimuli, are evoking the behaviour). Don’t wait for the unwanted behavior to appear before ‘fixing it’.

This comes with a caveat…..we first need to understand the animals motivation for the unwanted behaviour. If it is to satisfy a basic need that is missing from their life training is not the solution. Finding a way to satisfy that need is the answer.


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