Cautela, J. R., & Kearney, A. J. (1986). The covert conditioning handbook. New York, NY: Springer.
Covert extinction is a method used to decrease the rate of troublesome target behaviors. It consists of imaginations of behaviors followed by no reinforcement. An example would be an athlete troubling another athlete (the target behavior) without any positive consequence being associated with it.
- A major difficulty with covert extinction is imagining withholding the normal reinforcer that has supported the troublesome behavior.
- Variations in scenes should be used with the behavior so as to assist in generalization of the behavior extinction.
- Periodic trials and booster sessions are advised to thwart the occurrence of spontaneous recovery of the target behavior.
- Possible problems are: (a) an "extinction burst" which is a temporary increase in the target behavior (this usually happens when the procedure is first implemented); and (b) aggression towards those withholding the reinforcer (extinction-produced aggression).
- It is necessary to inform the client of potential difficulties prior to treatment.
- This procedure can be used in situations where extinction seems appropriate but people in the client's environment are not willing to withhold reinforcement. It is important that real reinforcement and imagined withholding do not occur together and thus place the behavior on an intermittent reinforcement schedule which, in turn, will make the behavior more resistant to extinction.
Implication. This technique could be used for phobias, disruptive or inappropriate practice behaviors, inappropriate outside-of-practice behaviors such as eating and resting habits, as well as removing inappropriate social behaviors that are detrimental to the athlete's sport participation.
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