I posted some of this back in May about the last days of the Clinton campaign.  This new edition is about the McCain Campaign.

If you study behavioral psychology, you’ll learn about a concept called “the extinction burst.”  

The specific example I use when I teach is this:

You’ve got a child who is throwing tantrums.  In the past, the tantrums have gotten the child attention, which is exactly what the child wants.  Therefore, you have been providing positive reinforcement to that child’s behavior.  It’s “positive” because you’re adding something (attention), not because it’s good.  It’s “reinforcement” because it increases the behavior.

The much more effective approach to reducing tantrums is negative punishment.  “Negative” because you’re removing something and “punishment” because it reduces the behavior.  When we talk about “punishment” in behavioral psychology we don’t necessarily mean anything specific; it’s just any act in a behavioral context which reduces the frequency of a given behavior.

But here’s why many parents don’t use negative punishment: the extinction burst.You have a child who’s throwing tantrums and you decide to reduce the tantrums through not paying attention.  You try to ignore them completely.  This will generally work.  But before it works, it gets worse.  The child, knowing that the tantrums have worked in the past, thinks that the tantrums are just not loud enough.  

So they get worse, before they fade out entirely.

This last ditch effort to make the tantrums work is the aforementioned “extinction burst.”  It’s perfectly human: something that has worked in the past is losing its power so you don’t try something different.  You do what you’ve been doing all along, but push harder.

Here are some examples of the extinction burst in action:

Per CNN:

Several McCain advisers have suggested to CNN that they have become increasingly frustrated with what one aide described as Palin “going rogue.”

A Palin associate, however, said the candidate is simply trying to “bust free” of what she believes was a damaging and mismanaged roll-out.

McCain sources say Palin has gone off-message several times, and they privately wonder whether the incidents were deliberate. They cited an instance in which she labeled robocalls — recorded messages often used to attack a candidate’s opponent — “irritating” even as the campaign defended their use. Also, they pointed to her telling reporters she disagreed with the campaign’s decision to pull out of Michigan.

A second McCain source says she appears to be looking out for herself more than the McCain campaign.

“She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone,” said this McCain adviser. “She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else.

John McCain just making crap up:

Per Yahoo News:

Pennsylvania Republicans are disavowing an e-mail sent to Jewish voters that likens a vote for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to events that led up to the Holocaust.

“Jewish Americans cannot afford to make the wrong decision on Tuesday, November 4th, 2008,” the e-mail reads. “Many of our ancestors ignored the warning signs in the 1930s and 1940s and made a tragic mistake. Let’s not make a similar one this year!”

Per Huffington Post:

Sarah Palin had a few memorable moments during her campaign stop in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday. But the most eye-opening of them all came, it would appear, when the Alaska Governor somehow drew a connection between Barack Obama’s tax policy and an encroaching, nightmarish, communist government. The Illinois Democrat, she hysterically suggested, would, through his proposals, create a country “where the people are not free.”

Per Raw Story (thanks, Pam!):

After several political signs were stolen or vandalized from his front yard, a Missouri man installed video cameras in an attempt to catch the vandals in the act.

And that’s exactly what he did.

A video below shows a woman stepping out of a truck and kicking Mike Brown’s Obama/Biden political signs before running away.

“I’m just a guy who has a sign in his yard, and this is the first election that I have ever felt was important enough for me to voice my opinion in the form of a yard sign,” said Brown.

Hey, let’s pretend terrorism isn’t terrorism:

Hey, what about Ayers?:

ust 28% of voters believe that John McCain’s campaign has been helped by talking about the relationship between Barack Obama and William Ayers. A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 50% believe talk of that issue has hurt McCain’s effort while 15% say it has had no impact.

How about we play the POW card and lie about Obama’s record?

Finally, per Talking Points Memo:

John McCain’s Pennsylvania communications director told reporters in the state an incendiary version of the hoax story about the attack on a McCain volunteer well before the facts of the case were known or established — and even told reporters outright that the “B” carved into the victim’s cheek stood for “Barack,” according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions.

John Verrilli, the news director for KDKA in Pittsburgh, told TPM Election Central that McCain’s Pennsylvania campaign communications director gave one of his reporters a detailed version of the attack that included a claim that the alleged attacker said, “You’re with the McCain campaign? I’m going to teach you a lesson.”

Verrilli also told TPM that the McCain spokesperson had claimed that the “B” stood for Barack. According to Verrilli, the spokesperson also told KDKA that Sarah Palin had called the victim of the alleged attack, who has since admitted the story was a hoax.

Stay classy, McCain campaign!



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