Aversive Conditioning

 What is Aversive Conditioning?

Aversive Conditioning, popularly known as Aversion Therapy, is one that helps an individual to forgo a certain behaviour or habit by making use of something undesirable or a punishment (repellant) to stop the inappropriate urge or behaviour.

Its purpose is to condition the mind of the patient to combine the discomfort with the behaviour or habit that one wants to quit.

Doctors across the globe use aversive conditioning to rehabilitate individuals who are driven by their addictions or compulsive behaviour.

For example: Suppose a person suffers from Onychophagia (compulsive nail-biting). So in aversion therapy, the bitter-tasting coating is applied to the nails to associate the habit with an unpleasant state.

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Table of Contents

  1. Basic Concept
  2. Aversion Therapy
  3. Use
  4. Kinds of Stimuli Used
  5. Factors Affecting the Effectiveness

Basic Concept

In classical conditioning, there are two types of unconditioned stimuli – Appetitive and Aversive.types-of-unconditioned-stimuli-inclassical-conditioning

In appetitive conditioning, an unconditioned stimulus is an event regarded as enjoyable, and the organism strives for it. Hence, the approach responses are automatically evoked. For example, eating, drinking, etc., which results in satisfaction or happiness.

As against, in aversive conditioning, the unconditioned stimulus is an event regarded as nasty, and the organism attempts to avoid it. Therefore, in this approach, the use of painful and torturous techniques, like the bitter taste, noise, painful injections, heat etc., takes place. It induces avoidance and escapes responses.

Further, a survey revealed that appetitive conditioning is slower in comparison to aversive conditioning as well as it requires a larger number of acquisition trials. However, aversive conditioning is established in a few trials, which rely on the intensity of the stimuli. But, aversive conditioning faces a lot of criticism for using inhumane methods.

Aversion Therapy

Aversive Conditioning is a tool for behaviour modification. In this therapy, the pairing of the unpleasant stimulus with the addictive behaviour takes place repeatedly. It helps to quell the appeal of such behaviour, which the patient wants to get rid of. And to do so, the patient is subject to physical or psychological hardship.

Suppose a person is going through aversion therapy to quit alcoholism. So, in aversion therapy, the patient is given a drug which induces a nauseatic feeling.aversive-conditioning

So, this technique helps in developing unwillingness to the targeted behaviour by connecting the stimulus with an uncomfortable sensation. Thus, it helps in combating addiction and inappropriate or bad habits.

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Use of Aversive Conditioning

Doctors use this therapy to treat people having addictive habits like smoking, alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling, anger issues, nail-biting, sex addiction, or any other bad habits. Even in kids, the technique is very helpful in curing enuresis, i.e. bedwetting using the bell and pad method.

Bell and Pad Method

  • In the bell and pad method, a pad wetness sensor is fixed in the bed of the kid. This is connected to the bell and rings whenever there is a sign of wetness. After hearing that ring, the kid has to get up and go to the toilet rather than wetting the bed further. The technique is effective in the sense that it has to do with the irksomeness of waking up and getting disturbed during the night.

Kinds of stimuli used in Aversive Conditioning

In this conditioning, the use of electrical, chemical or imaginary aversive situations as primary stimuli takes place. You can read about them further below:

  1. Electrical Stimuli: In this, the client is given an electric shock to show the addictive behaviour. Doctors use it mainly to treat sexual addictions. On using the electric shock as conditioning, checking the health of the patient takes place first. Further, the health must be up to the standard level. If any patient is suffering from some other illness, then it is better to avoid this therapy.
  2. Chemical and Olfactory Stimuli: On using chemical stimuli, whenever the patient displays addictive behaviour or habit, the doctor gives a drug such as apomorphine and emetine to the patient. It induces uncomfortable results like nausea and vomiting. Doctors use this therapy to treat alcoholism, wherein the combination of emetics and alcohol leads to vomiting.
  3. Covert Sensitization: In this therapy, the doctors use images of the addictive behaviour along with images of the aversive stimuli. For example, images of vomiting or nausea, in such a manner, which help lessen the forcible signs concerned with the behaviour.

Factors Affecting the Effectiveness of Aversion Therapy

  • Which treatment method and aversive conditions are used?
  • Whether or not the patient continues to carry on the session after the treatment is over.

There are certain cases in which the client starts addictive behaviour or habit after the conclusion of the treatment, and the patient is not any more exposed to the disincentive.

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