Learning/Behavioural Models - Addiction

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  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 14-06-13 23:28

Behavioural Models

This model views addictive behaviours as the same as any other behaviour. Consequently an addictive behaviour is considered to have been learned; therefore it can also be unlearned. Learning models also believe that there can be different degrees of smoking, drinking and gambling etc. (unlike the biological models).

Learning models assume that addictive behaviours can be learned in different ways:

• Operant conditioning

• Social learning theory

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Operant Conditioning

This is simply where behaviour is repeated as it has been rewarded in some way. Behaviour can be rewarded in different ways, such as -

  • Feeling relaxed after having an alcoholic drink, or starting smoking and gaining peer approval.
  • These rewards can vary from context to context. For instance, for some it may be more rewarding to take drugs whilst with friends whereas for others when they are feeling unhappy.
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This is the suggestion that we can learn by simply observing others. It is assumed that by observing significant people in our lives such as parents, older siblings / relatives and friends taking drugs, smoking, drinking alcohol etc. we learn that these are all acceptable, attractive and rewarding behaviours. Consequently, this can be enough for someone to be motivated to imitate such behaviours.

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Learning Models: Initiation


SLT: observe role models enjoying smoking, do the same

Operant conditioning: individuals may take up smoking in order to gain social approval from peers.


SLT: gambling addiction may start after witnessing someone else winning, you want to do the same

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Operant conditioning:

pleasurable feelings experienced by carrying out addictive behaviours motivate us to maintain / repeat the behaviour - feeling relaxed/peers approve


Operant conditioning:

The buzz of winning may be rewarding and therefore this may encourage individuals to repeat the behaviour

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Negative reinforcement 

avoiding withdrawal symptoms by deciding to take up addictive behaviours again, or to avoid social exclusion from peers

Gambling Negative reinforcement Individuals may relapse in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms and/ not being part of group

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Evaluation - Learning models and smoking

AKERS AND LEE (1996) carried out a five year study of 454 Secondary School students using a self-report questionnaire method. They measured how often they smoked and also ‘social learning variables’ (whether or not their friends smoked, how often their friends smoked and their perceived attitudes of their friends and parents regarding smoking. They found a significant positive correlation between smoking and ‘social learning variables’.

  • Self report technique –  social desirability bias
  • Correlational – can’t tell whether social learning variables are the cause or effect of smoking
  • Longitudinal – more valid because they did follow-ups, makes a note of changes over time
  • School students – not representative

WINETT ET AL: high status individuals (parents, older siblings, celebs) exert a stronger influence than low status individuals

LADER AND MATHESON (1991) : found that children are twice as likely to smoke if their parents smoke.

MURRAY ET AL. (1984): found that if parents are strongly against smoking then their children are seven times less likely to smoke.

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Some psychologists feel that individuals start smoking as a direct result of peer pressure; however MICHELLE AND WEST (1996) disagree

They carried out a large-scale study in Scotland and have suggested that it is only adolescents who already have a ‘readiness’ to start smoking that are affected by peer pressure (eg SLT). 

  • Difficult to generalise, though. – low external validity
  • Scotland - culture bias
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  • Problem gamblers find winning rewarding (financially and biologically) - encouraging them to maintain the addiction.
  • Losing should discourage the behaviour from being repeated as it acts as a punishment for that behaviour.
  • However, lots of research actually suggests that intermittent reinforcement is much more powerful in provoking addictive behaviours - there is always the possibility of winning.

PARKE AND GRIFFITHS (2004) suggest that individuals may also find the ‘buzz’ of gambling reinforcing and being in the company of like-minded people. Also the ‘near-misses’ experienced may provide reinforcement as it can encourage them to believe they could encounter future success. 

GRANT ET AL (2004) also found that in 40% of cases where people relapsed, was because they missed the thrill of gambling.

ADAMS ET AL (2004) found students with strict parents were more likely to become problem gamblers. (goes against SLT)

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