Dolphins, extinction bursts and bullying

When it comes to extinction bursts, dolphin trainers really do know their stuff.

How to use operant conditioning to train bullies to stop

Seth Slater is a former Navy dolphin trainer and he has a great article at Psychology Today on extinction bursts and how they work and how they make extinguishing a bad habit so difficult. (

In the article Seth shares what all good trainers know, while it is tempting to respond to an extinction burst display, as dramatic as they can be, but an untimely reward during an extinction process not only prolongs the extinction process, it sets you back to square one.

He also shares a little secret – these bursts can last days and sometimes weeks.

Why am I sharing this with you on a bullying blog? Well, for those of you who have not yet read my book (which you totally should), I teach how to use the same exact extinction protocol Seth talks about in his article. Except instead of teaching a dolphin to stop jumping, I am teaching kids how to teach other kids to stop bullying.

This might not seem like a big deal, but for any kid who is being bullied, learning what you need to do to get your bully to stop is desperately needed information.

The key to everything is to stop rewarding the dolphin (I mean bully) and to keep not rewarding them despite their increasingly aggressive and fantastic attempts to get their fish (I mean reward) back in a behavioral display known as an extinction burst which proceeds all behavioral extinctions.

This is the only way to extinguish unwanted behavior. Doesn’t matter what the behavior is, this is the only way that works to get it to stop. And all good trainers know this.