The opposite process theory: what it is and what it explains

The body tends to seek balance, both physiological and mental. When we take medicine, we first feel happy, uninhibited. However, after a while, and after leaving it, come the negative emotions, the headache, in short, the aversive sensations.

The same thing happens when we are in the company of someone. At first everything is joy but after spending time with this person, if we separate or lose them, we will feel terribly empty and sad.

The theory of the opposite process he tries to explain these phenomena, that is, how the presentation of a stimulus at the beginning involves certain emotions and, after a certain time, provokes others. Let’s look at it a bit more clearly below.

    The theory of the opposite process

    The theory of the opposite process, applied to emotions and motivations, was developed by Richard Solomon and John D. Corbit in 1978. This model has its origins in the opposing processes of Ewald Hering, although Hering used this term to explain human visual perception.

    Looking far above Hering argued that visual perception was based on the antagonistic activation of eye cones and rods.. Without going into details, his ideas would allow us to understand why when we look at an object of a particular color, we turn green, looking away after a long time and looking at a white or black surface we see the opposite color, the Red .

    Salomon and Corbit transferred this idea to the psychology of emotions and motivation. In the theory of the opposite process, he tries to explain why, when we are presented with a stimulus that elicits some kind of emotion, over time we get aroused by an antagonistic emotion first. That is, it aims to explain the process that follows an affective response to a stimulus, which can be both aversive and pleasurable, from its onset to its disappearance.

    Thus, according to the model, the presentation of a stimulus involves the activation of an opposing process mechanism. At first, a stimulus arouses an affective response, say positive. After a while, the body, in order to regain emotional homeostasis, activates a second response, Of symbol opposite to the first.

    So that it is understood. Suppose we have had a beer. Alcohol produces in us, at first, a positive emotion: what joy, uninhibited and we are more sociable. However, once the can is finished and after a few minutes, certain sensations begin to appear which, although not very serious, are annoying, such as a slight headache or “la Bajona”. With this example, we can see that at first this positive emotion woke up, then it turned negative, contrasting with the first.

    Model assumptions

    The theory of the opposite process is based on the following three assumptions.

    The first is that emotional responses have a biphasic pattern. In other words, we find that after giving these responses to the presentation of a stimulus, the latter is accompanied by another emotional response, but of opposite sign to that of the primary reaction.

    The second hypothesis is that the primary reaction, whether positive or negative, it loses strength as the contact time with the stimulus that triggered this response passes.

    The third hypothesis is that the loss of intensity of the first emotional response it is compensated by the increase of the opposite reaction. That is to say, in the long term, the subject’s emotionality regains its balance.

    The primary reaction loses strength as the contact time with the stimulus that triggered this response elapses. The loss of intensity of the first response is compensated by the increase in the opposite reaction.

    Process A and process B

    When faced with the presentation of a stimulus that elicits emotional responses, we have two different processes.

    The first process, which is what distinguishes a person from emotional neutrality, is process A or primary process, that is, the first emotional response. This, in itself, is the direct effect of the emotional stimulus, whether it is a substance such as drugs or the presence of a loved one. later, the process is given which counteracts the action of the first, called process B or opposite process.

    If we subtract the strength of process B from the strength of process A, as a result, we get the visible emotional expression, that is, the emotional reaction externally observed by the individual. Although at the start of process B, the opposite emotion tends to be weaker than that of process A, as exposure to elicitor becomes more continuous, process B gains strength, Being able to counter the primary emotional reaction.

    Initial and brief presentation

    When a stimulus is presented for the first time, process A arises independently, without being accompanied by process B. It is in this first phase that the first emotional reaction reaches its maximum intensity, since there is nothing in it. neutralization. After that, process B begins to emerge, opposing process A, although at the entrance it does not have much strength.

    If the stimulus that triggers the response is removed, process A stops, but not process B, which remains for some time. When is it the response of the opposite process can also be observed for the first time, also called affective post-reaction, Involving emotions opposite to those seen in the primary process. If the exposure to the stimulus has been brief, process B will occur with very little intensity, which will not allow this affective post-reaction to be too aversive.

    To better understand this idea, imagine a person smoking a cigarette for the first time. It is possible that this first cigar will trigger a positive feeling and when you finish it it will cause some slight discomfort such as a slight sore throat, a little nervousness and a bad taste in your mouth.

    She is not yet a smoker, so quitting does not make her neurologically inclined to use. Process B is weak, involving very little “craving” or the need for another cigar.

      Prolonged exposure to the stimulus

      As we have seen, process B gains strength as the contact time with the stimulus passes. If the stimulus has been presented for a longer time, process B takes longer to subside.

      In other words, as the time of exposure to the particular stimulus increases, the ability of the opposing process to compensate for the primary reaction also increases. As a result, the affective post-reaction will also be greater once we remove the trigger stimulus.

      Let us return to the case of tobacco. Imagine that instead of smoking for the first time, he has been smoking a daily pack for years, but has decided to quit. Stopping smoking abruptly makes process A disappear and gives way to process B, with great intensity..

      This is where the typical symptoms of smokers who try to quit smoking manifest themselves, such as irritability, nervousness, bad mood, lack of concentration … After being exposed to the stimulus for so long, the whole process ceases to be active.

      Practical applications of theory

      Understood the theory, it can be linked to two well-studied cases in psychology.

      1. Drug addiction

      As we have seen, the first time a drug is consumed it induces a primary or A process which involves a number of varying effects, depending on the drug itself.

      At this point, when the substance has just been consumed, the opposite process is not yet able to balance the organism by neutralizing the primary processSo the drug causes us the desired effects, the pleasurable effects.

      If this is the first time that you are taking the medicine or if you have not been exposed to it for too long, there will not be an emotional after-reaction or at least it will not be very intense.

      But the opposite happens when substance use continues. By being exposed for longer, the opposite process has already gained remarkable strength, What to be able to balance the body.

      If at this point we remove the triggering stimulus, i.e. the drug, the subject will be plunged into a series of unwanted symptoms, which we call abstinence.

      To avoid abstinence in a regular drug user, although this of course depends on the type of substance you are using, the simplest and most plausible solution is the administration of the substance, but in an increasingly reduced form, Give it up gradually.

      With this new administration, a pleasant A or primary process will be activated, which will be accompanied by a less intense and aversive B or opposite process, an affective post-reaction that will not lead to abstinence.

        2. Duel

        The theory of the opposite process can also be applied to the duel. In this process, that it can occur both in the face of the death of a loved one and in the breakdown or loss of any relationshipYou can see the appearance of process B, missing the person who is gone.

        From the first moment we meet someone who offers us something emotionally important, we experience positive emotions, such as joy, sexual satisfaction, warmth …

        At this stage of the relationship, the emotional post-reaction is weak, but also, after being exposed to this person, which is a moving stimulus of the emotions, breaking the relationship wouldn’t be such a serious thing.

        However, if the relationship continues over time, continued exposure to the person’s presence becomes like a drug. We are exposed to him or her and, if he suddenly leaves, process B is triggered, with negative emotions.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Vargas R., Jiménez R .. (2018) The theory of the opposition process as a model to explain addictions. Rev Elec Psic IZT .; 21 (1): 222-236.
        • Domjan, M. (2007). Principles of learning and behavior. Madrid: Thomson.
        • Pellegrini, S. (2009). Incentive effects on sugar water consumption responses in rats: an interpretation in terms of opposing process theory. In I International Congress of Investigation and Professional Practice in Psychology. Faculty of Psychology – University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires.

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