Classical and Operant Conditioning

Published: 2021-07-19 10:55:04
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How do the ideas of Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning explain why someone might misuse drugs? How can these theories be applied to the treatment of substance misuse? (1500 words) Learning (conditioning) is the process that eventually leads to relative permanent change in behavior or training. Some things are innate – we are born with the knowledge but others must be acquired actively. Thus, it is ‘an adaptive process in which the tendency to perform a particular behaviour is changed by experience.
With the change of circumstances, new behaviours are learned and old ones are eradicated. Peterson & McBridge (2005) believe that unlike biological theories that emphasise on the physical structure and the brain, psychological theories associate behaviour to processes that occur within the person’s mind. In his research, McMurran (1994) highlights six such behavioral theories that indicate relevance to substance misuse and dependency, two out of which are Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning.
While both result in learning, the processes are quite different. However, the two have always been classed as important concepts and are central to Behavioral Psychology. The assignment will focus on the two learning that affect the behaviours by the pairing of stimuli reflecting onto some of the factors that lead to substance misuse. It will then explore how the theories also contribute for the treatment of substance misuse and dependency. Classical Conditioning
Carlson et al (2005) emphasizes that classical conditioning involves learning about the conditions that foresee that an important event is going to take place. An internet source (simplypsychology), states that in this type of conditioning, ‘the condition that is responded is the learned response to the previously neutral stimulus’. This theory was developed by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) with his experiment with dogs. In the theory, Pavlov (1902) brought about the idea that dogs produced saliva when they saw a food dish, in anticipation for the meal to come.
He believed that the saliva produced was the outcome of a behaviour when the dog was able to associate one stimuli (the dish) with another (the food) and thus, portrayed the idea that association could be learnt. He further experimented using a bell as a neutral stimulus to observe if dogs were able to make associations with other stimuli prior to food delivery and was successful in his verdict after repeating it a number of times as this eventually caused the dogs to salivate in response to the bell even when no food was coming forth.
A new behaviour had been learnt as the dog was now being able to associate the bell with the food. The unconditioned stimulus was the food and the salivation was the unconditioned response. However with time, the sound of the bell predicted the appearance of food and thus, the bell which acted as the neutral stimuli was able to convince the dogs to associate it with food and became the conditioned stimulus and the salivation that latter occurred on hearing the bell, was then the conditioned response.
Pavlovian conditioning later laid emphasis on the fact that ‘sequence and timing’ were also very significant factors because if the timing of the performance was late, the dogs would not associate the neutral stimulus (the bell) to food thereby, rejecting it to be the conditioned stimulus. In relation to how someone might misuse drugs, McCrady & Epstein (1999) said that classical conditioning is believed to ‘facilitate development or drinking problem or craving through pairing of conditioned stimuli such as particular sites of use or people and the unconditioned stimulus (drugs), the result being a conditioned response or conditioned craving.
’ For example, Suzanna was first introduced to heroin by her boyfriend Jack and her experience to it helped her calm her nerves. The act causes Suzanna to learn to associate heroin (unconditioned stimulus) with calmness and relaxation of mind (unconditioned response). Therefore, with time and repetition, Suzanna has now begun to associate Jack who was earlier a neutral stimulus to become the conditioned stimulus to her conditioned response which is her craving for the psychoactive drug. The theory also links to the concept of how Cue Exposure Theory plays a role in this.
According to Heather & Greely (1990) and Drummond et al (cited in Hall et al (2002), p. 41) cues play significantly in order to develop and maintain addictive behaviours. Heather & Greely (1990) argues that the presence of cues that have previously been associated with a drug is very important in eliciting a craving itself. This explains why a person who has been abstinent for a while when exposed to cues like a pub environment, smell of an alcoholic drink, etc starts having strong cravings for the substance. Operant Conditioning From the work of B. F Skinner, we discover another type of learning which is the Operant Conditioning.
In contrast to classical conditioning: ‘operant conditioning tells us about the relations between environmental stimuli and our own behaviour. ’ (Carlson et al, 2005). In other words, both human beings and animals are more likely to learn or develop these behaviours that they are encouraged to as well as abandon those that are discouraged. This concept is known as positive and negative reinforcements. Thorndike’s process of ‘learning by trial and accidental success’ (Carlson et al, 2005) proved that a cat placed in a box with only one way out is able to learn a trick in order to escape from the box.
What reinforces the cat here is his desire of freedom. Operant conditioning highlights the fact that behaviours which are rewarded instantly are learned quicker. This mechanism appears to be the key factor in drug misuse. While healthy sources take more time to acquire the desired effect, the strong psychoactive drugs function immediately. When addiction continues to develop, it tends to dominate almost every aspect of somebody’s life and eliminates other sources of pleasure. This may result in losing friendship, work, family relationships and loss of interest over various activities.
The same mechanism applies when discussing negative reinforcements. For example, a substance does not bring about a desired effect or consequence, the action will tend not to be repeated (Carlson et al, 2005) but causes disappointment instead which in turn brings about an even more powerful addiction. Treatments The theories of classical and operant conditioning that explains mechanisms of addiction are also used in behaviour theories for the treatment of addiction. Although most experts agree that addiction is a brain disease, they equally believe that this does not mean that a victim is helpless.
It can be treated and reversed through various different treatment methods which include therapy, medication, exercise and many more. McCrady and Epstein (1999) believe that human behaviours are greatly learned and can be changed with the help of some basic principles of behaviour. Rotgers (1996) in his fundamental assumptions on the behavioural approach emphasised that the same learning processes that were used to develop substance misuse problems could be applied to solve them or alternatively, engagement in new behaviours in the manner they are meant to be performed is also significant in behavioural change.
He argued that by operating learning principles, behaviours such as thoughts and feelings are bound to change in time. This approach is linked to classical conditioning. Here, the Cue Exposure Theory that was mentioned earlier can also be closely linked to defunct the addictive behaviour which could lead to ‘extinction’ of the behaviour. Carlson et al (2005) believe that when a conditioned response is presented but is no longer followed by the unconditioned stimulus, the process eventually eliminates the conditioned response.
They are said to be less frequent and with time they terminate altogether. Thus, it states that conditioned responses that are formed do not permanently reside in an organism’s behaviour but may as well not disappear permanently too. They can reappear and call it a ‘spontaneous recovery’ and can acquire the conditioned response even more rapidly than they did in the first place. This is exactly what happens when a user who has been abstinent begins to get back to the use of drug and is even more addicted.
Punishment plays an important role in the development of addiction and may decrease negative behaviour . It is relatively easier to punish a person from addiction in their earlier stages as they cease to develop addiction to the substance. However, as seen with many cases, punishments for addiction tend to be in force much later which is not beneficial as many chemical and physiological changes may have taken place in the brain already causing it to be very difficult in the cessation of drugs.
In cases like these, it is suggested that punishment alone is not sufficient in eradicating the addiction issue and that the most advocate answer to this would be to increase the rewarding system and show more positive reinforcements. The CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training; Meyers & Wolfe, 2004) is an important therapy which is based on operant conditioning and believes that interpersonal relationship can help to bring about a change in behaviour towards an addicted person and thus includes and works with family members or someone very close to the addict.
They mainly help by utilising the positive and negative reinforcement technique. They reinforce an addict with healthy pleasures such as a good meal with the family when the person does not stop by a pub to make him feel loved by his family and withdraw this treat when he comes home drunk to make him realise the importance of it. However, the reinforcements differ from one person to another and needs to be assessed to figure the needs out. Therapists can help assess the primer need which has led the user to misuse drugs by performing an in-depth examination.
In that way, therapists are able to verify and provide various behavioural coping strategies for the situation. They also try to substitute and find means to develop other positive reinforcers, for instance options like jogging, creating new hobbies, etc to remain abstinent and keep that maintained. Thus, these are few of the many various treatments that the classical and operant conditioning theories use to prevent people from being addicted.

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