Edexcel AS Psychology - Learning Approach - Aversion Therapy

A brief summary of Aversion Therapy in the Learning Approach

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  • Created on: 30-03-12 12:13
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Aversion therapy: a treatment based on the principles of Classical Conditioning
What is it?
Aversion therapy is based upon the principles of Classical Conditioning in that it has the
potential to remove undesirable behaviour by associating the unwanted behaviour with an
aversive stimulus.
The therapy is best for treating addiction for things like alcohol and smoking. E.g. The therapy
substitutes an aversion response (e.g. pain or something unpleasant) for the pleasure
response. For example, in treating alcoholism, an emetic drug (unconditioned stimulus)
that makes the client vomit or feel nauseous (unconditioned response) is administered and
then paired with drinking alcohol (neutral stimulus). After a few trials, alcohol (conditioned
stimulus) will make the client feel sick (conditioned response).
(UCS) Emetic drug Vomiting (UCR)
(CS) Alcohol + (UCS) Emetic drug Vomiting (UCR)
(CS) Alcohol Vomiting (UCR)
Aversion Therapy & Homosexuality
The therapy has been used to try to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality. In 1994 the
American Psychological Association declared that Aversion Therapy was dangerous and did
not work. From 2006 the use of Aversion Therapy in treating homosexuals was said to
violate APA codes of practice. Its use with homosexuals is illegal in some countries - though it
is still used that way in others.
Its application to homosexual men is to give electric shocks while the men are looking at
homosexual pornography. The men are then shown heterosexual pornography without being
(UCS) Homosexual pornography + Shock (UCS) Pain (UCR)
(UCS) Heterosexual pornography + no shock No pain (UCR)
Supposedly, subjects were meant to associate homosexual pornography with the idea of
pain so they wouldn't want to look at it. They were also meant to associate heterosexual
pornography with no pain, so they would be more likely to look at that.
Martin Seligman (1966) claimed that 50% of gay men who received the treatment did not
continue homosexual practices. However, in 1998 Seligman acknowledged that most of the
men he studied where the treatment was successful were, in fact, bisexual. Where true
homosexual males were concerned, the treatment rate was much less successful. Some
studies have suggested a 99.5% failure rate at trying to convert homosexuals to
heterosexuality. The UK National Health Service largely abandoned Aversion Therapy as
a treatment for homosexuality after it was decriminalised in 1967.
Other `sexually deviant' behaviour like fetishism has also been attempted to be cured via
Aversion Therapy.
However, there have been some successes if the Aversion Therapy:
Mark Weinrott, Michael Riggan & Stuart Frothingham (1997) had juvenile sex offenders
listen to an audiotaped crime scenario that evoked defiant sexual arousal. The offenders
were then immediately exposed to a videotaped aversive stimulus ­ the negative social,

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The researchers found that the
offenders' physiological arousal and self-reported measures of arousal were reduced
following treatment.
P C Duker & D M Seys (2000) reported that they had reduced self-injury in 41 children with
learning difficulties. Non-aversive therapies and milder aversive stimuli ­ e.g. unpleasant
tastes and water sprays ­ had failed to deter the children from refusing food, vomiting, head
banging and hair pulling.…read more

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Systematic desensitisation, as it also uses the principles of Classical Conditioning.
The variants of Systematic therapy are Implosion therapy and Flooding, which again, use the
principles of Classical Conditioning. Try researching these for yourselves.…read more


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