Cues Associated with Alternative Reinforcement During Extinction Can Attenuate Resurgence of an Extinguished Instrumental Response.


Department of Psychology, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, USA. [Email]


In resurgence, a target behavior (R1) is acquired in an initial phase and extinguished in a second phase while an R2 behavior is reinforced. When R2 is extinguished, R1 behavior can return or resurge. Two experiments tested the effectiveness of a potential retrieval cue associated with extinction in attenuating resurgence. Experiment 1 established that a 2-s cue paired with outcome delivery in Phase 2 can attenuate resurgence when presented during testing. This effect depended on the cue being associated with the outcome, and it occurred if the cue was delivered contingently or noncontingently on responding during testing. Pairing the cue with reinforcement might be necessary to maintain attention to it during Phase 2. Experiment 2 demonstrated that the cue must be experienced in sessions that also include R1 extinction and that it does not reduce resurgence through a conditioned reinforcement mechanism. The results suggest that previously neutral stimuli can attenuate resurgence if they are first paired with alternative reinforcement and presented in sessions in which R1 is extinguished. They build on existing literature that suggests enhancing generalization between extinction and testing reduces resurgence. The results may have implications for reducing relapse following interventions in humans such as contingency management (CM), in which participants can earn vouchers contingent upon drug abstinence. A cue associated with CM might help reduce this relapse.


Extinction,Operant conditioning,Resurgence,Retrieval cue,

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