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Extinction Learning

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Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning


Inhibitory learning


Extinction learning refers to the gradual decrease in response to a conditioned stimulus that occurs when the stimulus is presented without reinforcement. The term “extinction” was first used by Ivan Pavlov in reference to his observation that the conditioned response to a cue that predicted food delivery decreased and eventually disappeared when food no longer followed the cue. In Pavlovian fear conditioning, a previously neutral stimulus comes to elicit a fear response through pairing with an aversive reinforcer, such as an electric shock or a loud noise. During extinction, a new association with the stimulus is learned that inhibits the expression of the original fear memory. Extinction learning serves as the foundation of exposure therapy, which is commonly used to treat pathological fear.

Theoretical Background

Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov first documented the phenomenon of extinction in his seminal classical conditioning experiments...

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Correspondence to Elizabeth A. Phelps .

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© 2012 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC

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Hartley, C.A., Phelps, E.A. (2012). Extinction Learning. In: Seel, N.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer, Boston, MA.

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