Monday, April 21, 2014

Extinction Burst

An "Extinction Burst" is one last, valiant effort by a child to break a discipline system.  In a sense, they are testing the will and resources of the authority.  It is similar to The Battle of the Bulge in World War 2.  The Axis powers threw all of their dwindling resources into an effort to break out and turn the tide of the war.

Decent article on Extinction Bursts here.

From a kid's perspective; a behavior that has been slowly escalating must have some pay-off.  It either gets the child attention or access to resources they crave.  In other words, the behavior in question is effective. The behavior works.

The goal of a discipline plan is to curb antisocial behaviors.  A child who is willful, not capable of visualizing alternative ways of accessing resources or who is blind to the more nuanced portions of the discipline plan will attempt to crash through the discipline plan.

Authorities are well advised to consider the costs of Extinction Burst.  It is wise to anticipate the next several steps that must be taken and to choose the timing and field-of-battle with care.  Poorly timed efforts to curb an antisocial behavior will result in the Extinction Burst being reinforced and it will be five times more difficult the next time the antisocial behavior is addressed.

An authority who over-thinks things will be tempted to fold.  The evidence in front of their eyes is that the discipline plan has the opposite of the intended effect.  The antisocial behavior goes off-the-chart rather than abating.

The fallacy of the Extinction Burst concept is that it is rarely "one last burst."  Any change in circumstance can trigger an Extinction Burst if the child perceives that the odds may have tilted back in their favor.

Thinking more globally

This could get very ugly.

Expectations change for children as they grow up.  They become more capable.  As parents we try to have a smooth transitions from behaviors like "crying in public" and "unregulated bowel movements" to employable adults capable of fulfilling, adult relationships.

The math of stagnation is ruthless.  There are many pensions that will not be paid out with the buying power the employee/retiree anticipates.  There are many "entitlements" that will be defunded...or the obligation will be discharged with inflated currency that lacks buying power.

Also, the courts have continually interpreted laws to grant more and more protections (entitlements) to entire classes of people.  Those protections cost resources. 


Consider people who are incarcerated.  A judge in Michigan ruled that prisoners are entitled to color TVs.

The cost of incarcerating prisoners is a bit of a shell game.  Each state seems to handle things differently.  For example, are the costs of litigating law suites included in the Corrections budget?  How about the cost of employee pensions?  How about healthcare for prisoners?  Dmitri Orlov snidely (but accurately) comments that the illegal drug trade is highly subsidized by the healthcare given to dealers during their regular trips to the slam.

This study places the cost to incarcerate one prisoner at about $30K per year.  Things will get ugly when the money spigot turns off and the prison industry must reconfigure to a more sustainable level of resourcing.

And it is not just the Corrections system.  Virtually every enterprise is guilty of accepting Federal money as an incentive for compliance with Federal mandates.

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