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 which one wants to quit.

Aversive Conditioning is globally used to rehabilitate individuals who are compelled by their addictions or compulsive behaviour.

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

Basic Introduction

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, painful and torturous techniques are used like a bitter taste, noise, painful injections, heat etc. which induces avoidance and escape 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, the aversive conditioning is established in a few trials, which relies on the intensity of the stimuli. But, aversive conditioning is highly criticized for using inhumane methods.

Aversion Therapy

Aversive Conditioning is a tool for behaviour modification. In this therapy, the unpleasant stimulus is paired with the addictive behaviour, repeatedly, so as to quell the appeal of such behaviour, which the patient wants to get rid of. And to do so, the patient is exposed 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 nauseatic feeling.aversive-conditioning

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

Use of Aversive Conditioning

This therapy is mostly used 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, which is connected to the bell which 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 is concerned with the irksomeness of waking up and getting disturbed during the night.

Kinds of stimuli used in Aversive Conditioning

In this conditioning, the primary stimuli employed are electrical, chemical or imaginary aversive situations, which are discussed as under:

  1. Electrical Stimuli: When electrical stimuli are used, the client is given an electric shock on showing the addictive behaviour. It is mainly used in treating sexual addictions. When an electric shock is used as a conditioning, first of all, the health of the patient is checked, which must be up to the standard level. If any patient is suffering from some other illness, then this form of therapy is avoided.
  2. Chemical and Olfactory Stimuli: On using chemical stimuli, whenever addictive behaviour or habit is displayed by the patient, he/she is given a drug such as apomorphine and emetine, which induces uncomfortable results like nausea and vomiting. Such therapy is used to treat alcoholism, wherein the combination of emetic and alcohol leads to vomiting.
  3. Covert Sensitization: In this therapy, images of the addictive behaviour is used in conjunction with images of the aversive stimuli, for example,images of vomiting or nausea, in such a manner which helps in lessening 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 treatment is concluded and not any more exposed to the disincentive.

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