Secret conditioning: what it is, what are its phases and techniques

Behavioralism is one of the best known paradigms in psychology throughout history, characterized by its almost exclusive concentration in human conduct being based on the principles of learning through association between stimuli. Born in opposition to psychoanalysis, he proposed the need to focus only on observable aspects, and without essentially considering the participation of the mind as something scientifically studyable.

It was only with the advent of cognitivism that cognition and other mental capacities would appear in scientific and empirical models of our mind and behavior, although before its emergence there was already an opening through the current behaviorist in exploring and incorporating less directly observable aspects.

Thus, the two paradigms are closely related, there are even theoretical models and therapeutic modalities that operate from an intermediate point between the two paradigms. A clear example of this is the so-called secret conditioning.

    Secret packaging

    By hidden conditioning we mean one of the most well-known psychological models based on the conditioning of behaviors. Like all other conditionings, the model considers that our behaviors can be understood based on the association made between stimuli, responses and consequences (more stimuli), Generate new associations by coordinating their occurrence, and that it is possible to modify the frequency of a particular response from its consequences. Applied to therapy, this would allow us to modify a dysfunctional response or learn a specific behavior.

    However, unlike open-ended models, the elements that would be used to modify behavior would be cognitive rather than physical. In fact, we observe the existence of factors not directly observable or hidden (such as thought) which they are the basis of behavior modification and which serve as a basis for secret packaging. Specifically, one of the most relevant factors is the use of imagination as a fundamental variable.

    We consider that the main father and propellant of secret conditioning was Joseph Cautela, Which would begin to apply the main principles of conditioning to cognitive elements such as symbolization, language and imagination. However, it should also be noted the important role of other authors such as Wolpe and Homme, who would serve as precursors in the creation of the first systematic desensitization (from which in large part a considerable proportion of secret techniques) and the second by demonstrating that things like language could be controlled at an experimental level.

    His theory

    This model does not start from scratch, but relies on different assumptions or basic principles.

    First it is based on the principle of homogeneity between manifest and secret behaviorsIn other words, it is assumed that the extractable conclusions of the manifest phenomena can also be applied to the secret ones.

    The second of the principles is that of interaction between the two: The manifesto and the hidden processes interact (for example to relax physically, we think about specific situations). The third and last proposes that the observable and the manifest and the secret follow the same laws of learning.

    The research carried out seems to reflect these hypotheses, being able to use the same techniques in imagination as on-line and seeing that there is a palpable effect of the interaction between hidden and manifest elements.

    Basic procedure: phases

    Hidden conditioning can be applied through different techniques, which we will see later. However, regardless of the technique used a specific process divided into different phases is usually used.

    1. Educational phase

    First, the professional explains the model and the technique to be used to the patient, clarify the doubts of it and justify the reason for using this technique.

    2. Assessment phase and imagination training

    The use of techniques based on hidden conditioning requires a certain capacity for imagination and visualization, these aspects being something in which different patients can be very different. Thus, it will be necessary to evaluate the patient’s ability to form mental images and put themselves in different situations through the imagination, And in cases where it is necessary to train in this area.

    3. Application phase of concealed packaging in consultation

    During this phase, the secret conditioning will be applied in a controlled situation. Initially, a conditioning will be generated by associating mental images of behaviors and consequences, by carrying out a large number of matches. About twenty tests are recommended. The patient gradually reduced the level of help obtained from the professional as you master the technique.

    4. Consolidation and generalization phase

    This last phase aims to get the patient to do the conditioning alone and to make him more and more autonomous, as well as to plan his homework.

    Techniques based on this model

    We have previously thought about the basic phases of techniques based on hidden conditioning. However, there are many techniques that can be used to treat the problems presented by the patient. Some of the most relevant are as follows.

    1. Positive reinforcement / hidden negative reinforcement

    Secret reinforcement, whether positive or negative, is based on generating some kind of stimulus or consequence that causes an increase in the likelihood of repeating the behavior to be generated or increased, But in the imagination.

    It seeks to bring the patient closer to performing the behavior, often using the side effects of systematic desensitization to reduce reactions such as anxiety. In the case of positive reinforcement we would use some kind of appetitive stimulation for the subject, while in negative reinforcement we would use the withdrawal of an aversive stimulus. It is used in situations such as exposure to phobias, inhibited or avoided behaviors in other disorders or for learning skills.

      2. Secret consciousness

      Secret consciousness is based on reducing the probability of emission of a behavior by the presentation of an aversive stimulus contingent on that behavior. It seeks to inhibit or reduce the response by generating negative responses such as anxiety at the onset of the behavior. It is used in addictions and paraphilias, for example.

      This would amount to positive punishment, in which a behavior (punishment) is reduced by adding (positive) an unwanted and annoying stimulus. Being secretive, what would be done would be to imagine the problematic behavior to be reduced or eliminated associated with aversive situations.

      There is a modality, the assisted hiding place, in which it is in fact real stimulation is applied although aversiveness is imaginary. In cases where there is a lot of anxiety or difficulty imagining yourself, this can be done in an indirect way: by imagining another person doing the behavior and experiencing the negative consequences.

      3. Cost of the secret response

      Equivalent to negative punishment or response cost, it is based on decrease in the likelihood of performing a behavior by removing an appetite stimulus. The subject is made to associate the performance of the behavior with the suppression of certain reinforcers. It is used for example in paraphilias or in other types of maladaptive responses.

      4. Modeling secret

      Modeling is a technique that seeks the observation and subsequent repetition of a behavior through the visualization of a model that performs it. In the case of secret modeling, the model in question would not physically exist but the subject will have to imagine a subject other than himself carrying out the activity to be trained. Little by little and through repetitions, the imagined model gets closer and closer to the subject.

      It is recommended that the model be hesitant first and present occasional difficulty, for later perform the action with great mastery. Finally, the patient is asked to imagine himself performing the action without difficulty and in controlling the situation. The main goal is to learn new behaviors, similar to positive reinforcement.

      5. Secret affirmation

      Based on self-control, this technique is based on the reduction of negative emotions and self-cognitions that make it difficult to be successful in achieving goals or facing or overcoming a situation through the use of positive verbalizations. It would therefore be a question of reducing self-criticism by generating positive affirmations that generate well-being.

        6. Self-control triad

        Technique devised by Cautela himself which includes such elements as thought arrest (which in itself is another secret conditioning technique) or the behavior in the subject is ordered subvocalmente the cessation of the behavior or the thought to reduce, To later perform relaxation exercises such as breathing, then view positive scenes.

        bibliographical references

        • Dahab, J .; Rivadeneira, C. and Minici, A. (2005). Hidden conditioning techniques. Journal of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, 9. CETECIC.
        • Ametller, MT; Díaz, M. and Jiménez, G. (2012). Psychotherapies. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 06. CEDE: Madrid.

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