Aversive conditioning is a technique used in behavior therapy to reduce or extinguish behaviors by associating them with a negative outcome, typically physical or psychological pain.
During aversive conditioning, patients are exposed to an unpleasant stimulus while engaging in the targeted behavior. In adults, aversive conditioning is often used to combat addictions. One frequently cited method is the administration of a nauseaproducing drug while the client is smoking, engaging in illicit drug use, consuming alcohol, or engaging in sexually addictive behavior so that highly unpleasant associations are paired with the addictions, in an effort to extinguish (eliminate) the occurrence of the negative behaviors. Aversive therapy has also been used to treat nail biting and other strong negative habits. In the past, electroconvulsive therapy was sometimes administered as a form of aversion therapy for certain disorders, but this practice has been discontinued.
Aversive conditioning has been reported to be an effective treatment for bedwetting in children over seven years; children are made to awaken to an alarm which sounds when the bed is wet. In a variation of aversive conditioning called covert sensitization, the client simply imagines the undesirable behavior instead of actually engaging in it, and next either imagines or is exposed to an unpleasant stimulus.
In contemporary behavior change theory, punishment in any form is generally considered less effective than reinforcement for creating sustained behavior change.
See also Behavior modification ; Classical conditioning ; Learned helplessness ; Learning ; Operant conditioning .
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