Avoidance conditioning: what it is and its characteristics

Conditioning is one of the most basic forms of learning that exists, both in humans and in many other species.

In this methodology, there are important concepts to consider, and one of them is avoidance conditioning. Below we will see in detail what it is based on and how this type of response to various stimuli is generated.

    What is the conditioning of avoidance

    Avoidance conditioning is a form of response that can be generated in operative conditioning processes, when the individual is obtained to give a certain response to avoid a certain aversive stimulusAs he learned that through this behavior he achieves the non-occurrence of this unpleasant stimulus.

    To fully understand the concept, one must first know the logic of instrumental or operant conditioning. In this form of associative learning, a subject seeks to increase or decrease a certain behavior by reinforcements (stimuli that make the behavior more likely) or punishments (stimuli that make the behavior less likely), or by applying them. Positive) or by eliminating- (negative)) when performing the desired behavior.

    By focusing now on negative reinforcement, we would get a type of stimulus which, when removed (this is what is negative), would increase the likelihood of the individual showing the desired behavior (thus being a reinforcement and not a punishment). ). Once we clarify these basic concepts, it’s easier to understand what avoidance conditioning is all about.

      Common mistakes: reinforcements and incentives

      Here it is worth highlighting a problem that often leads to errors, namely we are talking about negative reinforcement and aversive stimulus. Many people mistakenly believe that all reinforcements should be stimuli that appeal to the subject, but we have already seen that reinforcement refers only to the increased likelihood of the response we are looking for, no more and no less.

      On the other hand, it is also important to keep in mind that whenever it comes to aversive stimuli (or rewards, if not), these acquire this condition by the individual’s perception of them. in particular, it is not an intrinsic characteristic. stimuli, although it can sometimes appear to be the case.

      And is what is pleasant for one person or animal may be unpleasant for another, Or it may even vary depending on the circumstances. For example, a food will be a pleasant stimulant for an individual as long as an individual is not already full, likes the taste, has no allergies, etc.

      It is very important to keep these questions in mind, otherwise we might have difficulty understanding the fundamentals of both avoidance conditioning and operant conditioning processes in general.

      Avoidance before escaping

      With negative reinforcement we can obtain two clearly differentiated behaviors, which are evasion and avoidance. How are they different? Both have to do with the removal of a stimulus that is aversive to the subject, but the key here would be the timing of the application of that stimulus.

      If the aversive stimulus is applied to him first and the individual exhibits the behavior that we are looking for in order to eliminate that stimulus, we would speak of escape conditioning. However, if the subject has learned that by emitting the behavior he manages to ensure that the unpleasant stimulus is not applied to him (which would come later), it would be a question of conditioning the avoidance.

      When faced with the dilemma of evasion and avoidance, the key to differentiating between the two types of response would be to visualize the timeline of events and find out if thanks to the answer, the person manages to put an end to the unpleasant fact or on the contrary obtains that it never happens (Being this second case the conditioning of avoidance that we are studying).

      discriminating stimulus

      One may wonder how it is possible for the subject to anticipate that this unpleasant event which is the aversive stimulus is going to occur and is therefore able to emit the appropriate response to prevent it before it takes place and ends. produce, for both, the avoidance conditioning.

      This is achieved through what is called a discriminatory stimulus, a stimulus which in itself is neutral but which precedes what is aversive, So that the individual is warned of what is going to happen and can therefore make the decision to give the answer to avoid it.

      In this case, the subject’s behavior will increase as he reaches the person’s goal, which is to ensure that the unpleasant stimulus does not come to mind, and he already knows that this always happens. stimulus, unless it performs such conduct in question.

      Faced with discriminated avoidance, which would be the one that uses the discriminating stimulus to “warn” the subject that the aversive stimulus will make its imminent appearance, there is another methodology to try to achieve the avoidance conditioning. It is known as the Indiscriminate Avoidance Procedure or the Sidman Free Operator Avoidance Procedure..

      This other way of working with avoidance, instead of using a signal that warns the individual of the aversive stimulus, what it does is to apply that stimulus in a temporary pattern, so that it always appears from time to time. time., Unless the individual exhibits certain behavior, the consequence would be to postpone the next application of the aversive stimulus.

      However, the results clearly indicate that Sidman’s methodology achieves much worse results than those obtained with discriminatory avoidance conditioning. For starters, learning takes much longer in the first case than in the second. On the other hand, the avoidance responses obtained have no stability, an element which however manifests itself in the second method.

      To finish, the avoidance behavior by the Sidman method is very easily extinguishable, Soon forgetting to stop presenting the aversive stimulus. Conversely, when the discriminating stimulus is used, the avoidance conditioning is strong and therefore difficult to extinguish, taking a long time to achieve.

      practical example

      Let us take a practical example to better understand the implications of avoidance conditioning and also to be able to compare the methodologies of discriminated avoidance and blind avoidance. One of the typical studies is one that was done with laboratory mice and rats., Which is introduced into the so-called avoidance box.

      This box consists of two different rooms, separated by a hinged door. One of the compartments has elements for transmitting electricity, a stimulus that is applied from time to time. However, this electric shock affects only one compartment, but not the other.

      In the first of the studies, which uses discrete avoidance, each of these discharges will be preceded by a discriminatory stimulus, which in this case will be an auditory signal, which seeks to alert the mouse to the impending discharge it has received, unless he immediately leaves the dangerous compartment and goes to insurance.

      In the second study, this type of auditory signal is not appliedThus, the only clue that the mouse receives about the electric shocks applied to the first compartment is the periodicity of the discharge itself, which gives it a stable temporal pattern.

      The results are conclusive. In the first case, the mouse only needs a few repetitions to find the pattern and quickly escape to the safe compartment of the box as soon as the beep sounds, soon causing it to be affected by one of the shocks.

      On the other hand, mice which are not warned by this whistle, made it much more complicated and, even after many repetitions, continue to suffer numerous shocks because they are not able to find the relation between the model of time between current and current, so that good avoidance conditioning is not obtained, not like in the first case.

      As we anticipated in the characteristics of these methodologies, it is proven that the response with the first method turns out to be immensely more stable, it is learned much earlier and it is more durable, Complicate extinction. In the opposite case, that of the Sidman method, the reverse occurs. Learning is slow and chaotic, there is no stability in responses, and this pattern is easily lost.

      It is therefore clear that the use of a discriminatory stimulus is essential to achieve quality avoidance conditioning, because the results obtained are much more satisfactory than those of the study in which this anticipation is lifted. aversive by means of a signal.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Domjam, M. (2007). Principles of learning and behavior. Madrid. Room.
      • Domjan, M., Sants, JMR (2002). Basics of learning and conditioning. From the moon.
      • Pérez-Acosta, AM, González, AP (1998). Avoidance conduct: acquisition and extinction. Psychological sum.

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