Extinction under a behavioral microscope: Isolating the sources of decline in operant response rate

Timothy H C Cheung, Janet Neisewander, Federico Sanabria

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Extinction performance is often used to assess underlying psychological processes without the interference of reinforcement. For example, in the extinction/reinstatement paradigm, motivation to seek drug is assessed by measuring responding elicited by drug-associated cues without drug reinforcement. However, extinction performance is governed by several psychological processes that involve motivation, memory, learning, and motoric functions. These processes are confounded when overall response rate is used to measure performance. Based on evidence that operant responding occurs in bouts, this paper proposes an analytic procedure that separates extinction performance into several behavioral components: (1-3) the baseline bout initiation rate, within-bout response rate, and bout length at the onset of extinction; (4-6) their rates of decay during extinction; (7) the time between extinction onset and the decline of responding; (8) the asymptotic response rate at the end of extinction; (9) the refractory period after each response. Data that illustrate the goodness of fit of this analytic model are presented. This paper also describes procedures to isolate behavioral components contributing to extinction performance and make inferences about experimental effects on these components. This microscopic behavioral analysis allows the mapping of different psychological processes to distinct behavioral components implicated in extinction performance, which may further our understanding of the psychological effects of neurobiological treatments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-123
Number of pages13
JournalBehavioural processes
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2012


  • ADHD
  • Bout
  • Drug seeking
  • Extinction
  • Hierarchical model
  • Microstructure of behavior
  • Motivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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