How Conditioning Affects Personality

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In Chapter 1, we said that the key elements of personality are stability of behavior over time and across different situations. By these criteria, personality change occurs when new behaviors either become stable over time and/or across different situations. One domain in which personality change may be evidenced is hi psychotherapy. In fact, a major goal of therapy is to change behavior, and if the changes are stable over tune and situations, then one could talk about changing personality.

One basic assumption of Skimierian conditioning is that reinforcement shapes behavior. Yet what are the factors that change reinforcement; that is, can certain stimuli become more or less reinforcing for an individual over time? This is an important question in treating people with drug problems, because successful treatment requires that a reinforcer (drug) lose its reinforcing value. For smokers, for example, nicotine gradually becomes a negative reinforcer, as mild states of tension are removed by the effects of this drug.

Some evidence has shown that psychomotor stimulants (such as cocaine or d-amphetamines) hicrease smoking levels in those who smoke. There are two possible explanations for the effect: First, perhaps the stimulant specifically increases the reinforcing effect of nicotine; second perhaps psychomotor stimulants simply increase activity levels in general, and smoking is just one of them, hi order to test these two competing explanations, Jennifer Tidey, Suzanne O'Neil, and Stephen Higgins (2000) conducted a study with 13 smokers and put them through an elaborate testing procedure (12 separate 5-hour sessions), in which they either received a placebo or the drug d-amphetamine. Ninety minutes later the smokers had to choose between two different rehiforcers, money ($0.25) or smoking (two puffs). If they chose money, a running total of the accumulated amount was shown on a computer screen and participants were paid that amount at the end of the testhig session. If they chose the cigarette, they were allowed two puffs immediately after doing the desired behavior. If the stimulant simply hicreases general activity levels, there should be no systematic preference for one reinforcer over the other (compared to baseline preferences). Additionally, after the experimental session ended they were allowed a period hi which they could smoke as much or as little as they wished (free-smoking session).

However, results showed that smoking levels in both the experimental choice (compared to money ) and in the free smoking sessions hicreased in proportion to d-amphetamine. The higher the dose of d-amphetamine, the more they smoked. Even more importantly, however, smoking was chosen over money in the choice session hi direct proportion to the amount of d-amphetamine administered. Therefore, the stimulant must hicrease the reinforcing value of nicotine specifically and not the other rehiforcer (money). In short, the answer to the question of whether rehiforcers can change then value over tune and hi combination with other stimuli is "yes," and hi this case nicotine can become even more reinforcing in the presence of psychomotor stimulants.

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