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Anticipatory-Avoidance ...


[Figures in behaviourism]
[Anticipatory-avoidance learning]
[Behaviour modification]
[Learned helplessness]






Behavior Modification
Learned Helplessness
History of Behaviorism

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  • "I say, I say, I say! Why have you got a banana in your ear?"
  • "To keep the elephants away."
  • "But there aren't any elephants for miles."
  • "I know effective, isn't it?"
The above silly example illustrates the tenacity of learning in which the pay-off ("reinforcement" in behaviorist language) is that something does not happen. This is prophylactic, preventative behavior, and no-one with any sense is going to abandon such learned behavior just to see whether something terrible really does happen.
It is thus at the root of the learned component of obsessive-compulsive behavior (although there is evidence for a genetic basis for predisposition to that disorder), of superstition, and of people's devotion to practices which allegedly preserve health ("Don't go out immediately after you have washed your hair you'll catch cold"). It may also underlie the potency of some kinds of necessarily unverifiable religious belief.

The origin of such learning has often been authoritative injunctions from parents or others, but it is their anticipatory-avoidance nature their perceived contribution to survival which keeps them in being. Such learning is notoriously resistant to change.

The classic demonstration was an experiment by Solomon and Wynne (1953), bearing a resemblance to Seligman's protocol. Dogs were confined to a cage, of which half the floor could be electrified to give a shock: they were free to jump over a low net to the other side. A buzzer was sounded just before the shock, and the dogs rapidly learned to jump at the sound of the buzzer. The shocks themselves were discontinued, but the dogs continued to jump. Normally such conditioning would eventually have been extinguished by the removal of the unconditioned stimulus but not in this case: an informal account would say that the dogs had too much sense to wait around to find out if the shock was going to happen or not.

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