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Sam is a cigarette smoker who is currently trying to quit, but has found it difficult to abstain from smoking. Sam first started smoking a year ago with his work friends during their morning coffee breaks, enjoying the pleasant feeling of smoking tobacco. Lately if Sam goes without a cigarette for more than a few hours, he feels agitated and uncomfortable, and will often take a ‘smoke break’ to relieve these symptoms. Morning coffee breaks are particularly difficult, and Sam feels his cravings get much worse when he’s drinking his morning coffee. In order to avoid smoking with his friends, Sam often skips the morning coffee break and finds that when he does, his cravings are much easier to manage.

Your task is to read the vignette above and identify the critical behavioural features of substance addiction. I have written the vignette with three associative learning phenomena in mind, which are covered in the associative learning lectures, and the withdrawal and tolerance lectures. For each feature you will need to:

1. Correctly identify the associative learning phenomenon and explain where in the vignette this can be found (i.e. what aspect of Sam’s behaviour/story demonstrates this phenomenon).

2. Explain the associative learning phenomenon with reference to scientific journal articles, as well as any relevant psychological theories or models. (i.e. how has this phenomenon been shown in experimental research).

3. Explain the relevance of the associative learning phenomenon to the development and/or maintenance of substance addiction. Specifically, how does this phenomenon, individually or in combination with the others mentioned in the vignette, lead to a pattern of relapse and inability to abstain from smoking.

Sam: A Case Study

The purpose of psychology is to study the individual behavioral patterns, mental processes and attitudes of people. Cigarette smoking or nicotine addiction may be defined in psychology as a powerful motivation for cigarettes, which overcomes the motivation not to (Bickel, Mueller & Jarmolowicz, 2013). There have been various attempts on part of the psychologists to explain substance addiction. For one, cigarette addiction may be explained as a kind of learned association between the actual act and the sensations related to smoking, which is prompted by specific cues and stimuli. The following essay attempts to study nicotine addiction from a psychological perspective.

In the vignette provided, the associative learning phenomenon is classical conditioning, a concept which was first demonstrated by Pavlov through a series of experiments. The associative learning phenomenon which is also known as Pavlovian conditioning is evident from the activities of the subject, Sam. The vignette provided states that Sam is a chain smoker who finds it quite hard to quit smoking. He had started smoking with his work friends, during their morning coffee breaks. Classical conditioning states that a person acquires a learned association when a natural stimulus becomes paired or associated with a stimulus which was previously neutral. The morning coffee initially was a neutral stimulus. However, as Sam and his friends began to smoke during their coffee breaks, coffee gradually began to get associated with cigarettes. As a result, with the passage of time, coffee breaks would seem impossible or incomplete without cigarettes. This is one of the most crucial factors that has triggered Sam’s cigarette and nicotine addiction. Spending even a couple of hours without smoking would make Sam uncomfortable and agitated. The vignette also mentions that Sam feels these urges and cravings while drinking coffee. In order to quit smoking, Sam has had to quit coffee. Attending the coffee breaks with his friends would make him crave cigarettes. On the other hand, skipping the breaks eased his cravings and he did not feel the urges as much. This shows that his brain has learnt to associate coffee with smoking, which is a clear example of classical conditioning.

The concept of classical conditioning was first introduced by Russian physiologist named Ivan Pavlov. He was conducting an experiment on dogs, when he noticed a fascinating behavioral phenomenon. Whenever the lab technicians responsible for feeding the dogs entered the room, the dogs began to salivate. In other words, the dogs had begun to associate the lab technicians with food. This is what has come to be known as classical conditioning. As Hesslow, Jirenhad, Rasmussen and Johansson (2013) have claimed, classical conditioning may be defined as a learning phenomenon where a previously neutral stimulus (which initially had no impact on the behavioral patterns of individuals) comes to be associated with a biologically potent stimulus. In other words, as a result of classical conditioning, an individual would begin to show the same responses to a previously neutral stimulus which he would do a natural stimulus. For example, salivation on seeing food is a natural stimulus for dogs. However, since the lab technicians were feeding them at regular intervals, they began to associate them with food, which caused them to salivate at the mere sight of these technicians. Weiss (2014) thus distinguishes the two stimuli into unconditioned stimulus and conditioned stimulus. The former refers to the naturally occurring stimulus or biological stimulus, which triggers a natural and expected response. On the other hand, conditioned stimulus refers to a certain cue or action which was previously neutral and did not trigger responses. When such a stimulus is repeatedly paired with unconditioned stimuli, the brain begins to associate the former with the latter. With passage of time, the person would demonstrate the same responses to the previously neutral stimulus as well. Petty (2014) claims that it was John Watson who elaborated on the concept of classical conditioning and denied the very existence of natural emotions or consciousness. Watson claimed that the mind of an individual at birth was tabula rasa, or a blank slate. Every single, minute human response which was a reaction to various stimuli was a part of a learning process. He believed that any individual could be trained to react, respond or behave in a certain way. Garcia Penagos, Andres and Malone (2013) claims that Watson’s arguments changed the way people perceive human behavior. Watson also went on to claim that a person’s nature, traits or personality had nothing to do with his ethnicity, abilities or even talents. On the contrary, any person could be trained to act in a certain way through controlled classical conditioning.

Classical Conditioning: An Overview

Two important theories must be studied with respect to classical conditioning. For instance, the stimulus substitution theory claims that classical conditioning does not require the acquisition of new behavioral patterns or traits. On the other hand, through conditioning, individuals simply react to old stimuli in new ways. Proulx, Brown, Pasqualotto and Meijer (2014) argue that the stimulus substitution theory emphasizes that when a new stimulus is paired with an existing stimulus or conditioned stimulus, classical conditioning occurs. As a result of this classical conditioning, it becomes possible to completely replace the original conditioned stimulus with the new one. This was demonstrated as part of Pavlov’s experiment, when he showed that the dogs began to salivate at the mere sight of the lab technicians’ coats. Another model that must be examined in this respect is the Rescorla Wagner Model, which predicts the relationship between the conditioned and unconditioned stimuli. The model claims that in order to garner suitable responses to the conditioned stimuli, there are a few factors that must be taken into account. For instance, the nature of conditioned stimulus would play a crucial role (Rescorla, 2014). It needs to be tempting enough to motivate the individual or move the person to action.

 Essentially, classical conditioning claims that human behaviors are learnt responses and are a reaction to specific stimuli (Chandler & Gass, 2013). For instance, in the case of the vignette provided, coffee can be explained as a conditioned stimulus. The stimulus previously was a neutral one and did not trigger temptations for smoking. However, since Sam and his friends smoked regularly during their coffee breaks, coffee became gradually became a stimulus which triggered a conditioned response. This was the main cause behind his urges to smoke. Thus, classical conditioning as a learning mechanism can explain addiction to various substances like drugs, alcohol and nicotine. In order to explain classical conditioning as a major factor behind addiction, withdrawal symptoms need to be present (Piper, 2015). For example, when Sam tried to quit smoking, he found it difficult to do so and even experienced withdrawal symptoms. This is because a stimulus is associated or attached to the behavioral pattern. The environment (coffee break) and the sensations (the urge to smoke) associated with the stimulus is what triggered the subject’s addiction. Since the unconditioned response of coffee is now associated with cigarettes, the presence of that once neutral stimulus would evoke the same response which is associated with smoking, even in the absence of the unconditioned stimulus. In simple words, since coffee has become attached to smoking for Sam, he would feel the urge to smoke in the mere presence of coffee. This is especially important in the case of people who want to quit smoking. The presence of the conditioned stimulus, coffee in this case, would make it impossible for Sam to abstain from smoking. This is because coffee would act as a cue and result in relapse triggers (Carey, Carrera & Damianopoulos, 2014). However, cue exposure therapy is one method which can terminate the paired association and force the human brain to stop associating one stimulus with another. This therapy essentially states that if a person is exposed to the problematic cues (coffee) repeatedly, without the cigarettes, the person’s brain will put an end to the association.

To conclude, it can be said that every aspect of human behavior is a part of a learning mechanism. In other words, every human response or emotion is a reaction to the presence of certain stimuli. The human brain is wired in such a way that it tends to associate a particular neutral stimulus with a naturally occurring one, which is known as classical conditioning. As research shows, classical conditioning can be used to both explain and treat addiction to various substances like drugs, alcohol and even nicotine.

References:

Bickel, W. K., Mueller, E. T., & Jarmolowicz, D. P. (2013). What is addiction?. Addictions: A comprehensive guidebook, 2, 3-16. Retrieved from: https://books.google.co.in/books?hl=en&lr=&id=MUYfAQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA3&dq=Bickel,+W.+K.,+Mueller,+E.+T.,+%26+Jarmolowicz,+D.+P.+(2013).+What+is+addiction%3F.+Addictions:+A+comprehensive+guidebook,+2,+3-16.&ots=0mqK9PXbHF&sig=0kuKHF7RWnOyr-hC3s46QNWLSJI#v=onepage&q&f=false

Carey, R. J., Carrera, M. P., & Damianopoulos, E. N. (2014). A new proposal for drug conditioning with implications for drug addiction: The Pavlovian two-step from delay to trace conditioning. Behavioural brain research, 275, 150-156. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166432814005725

Chandler, L. J., & Gass, J. T. (2013). The plasticity of extinction: contribution of the prefrontal cortex in treating addiction through inhibitory learning. Frontiers in psychiatry, 4, 46. Retrieved from: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00046

GARCÍA-PENAGOS, A. N. D. R. É. S., & MALONE, J. C. (2013). From Watson’s 1913 manifesto to complex human behavior. Revista Mexicana de Análisis de la Conducta, 39(2). Retrieved from: https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=4649945

Hesslow, G., Jirenhed, D. A., Rasmussen, A., & Johansson, F. (2013). Classical conditioning of motor responses: what is the learning mechanism?. Neural Networks, 47, 81-87. Retrieved from: https://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs/academic/class/15883-f15/readings/hesslow-2013.pdf

Petty, R. E. (2014). Historical Foundations of the Cognitive Response Approach to Attitudes. Cognitive responses in persuasion, 5. Retrieved from: https://books.google.co.in/books?hl=en&lr=&id=_j3XAwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA5&dq=Petty,+R.+E.+(2014).+Historical+Foundations+of+the+Cognitive+Response+Approach+to+Attitudes.+Cognitive+responses+in+persuasion,+5.&ots=OiX0FScSGt&sig=JRAymP1S0BlrHnsQ1lIgGW_t29g#v=onepage&q&f=false

Piper, M. E. (2015). Withdrawal: expanding a key addiction construct. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 17(12), 1405-1415. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4654762/

Proulx, M. J., Brown, D. J., Pasqualotto, A., & Meijer, P. (2014). Multisensory perceptual learning and sensory substitution. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 41, 16-25. Retrieved from: https://www.academia.edu/download/30753251/Proulxetalinpress.pdf

Rescorla, R. A. (2014). Pavlovian Second-Order Conditioning (Psychology Revivals): Studies in Associative Learning. Psychology Press. Retrieved from: https://content.taylorfrancis.com/books/download?dac=C2013-0-27962-0&isbn=9781317666288&format=googlePreviewPdf

Weiss, S. J. (2014). Instrumental and classical conditioning. The Wiley Blackwell handbook of operant and classical conditioning, 417-451. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781118468135.ch17

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