The cigarette with friends’ and ‘enjoying the pleasant

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Last updated: December 30, 2019

The vignette of ‘John, the cigarette smoker’ conveys three associative learning phenomena. Although not limited to the three, the phenomena identified are classical (Pavlovian) conditioning, instrumental (operant) conditioning and conditioned withdrawal. The phenomena are epitomised in the text by critical behavioural characteristics which underpin his substance addiction. Associative learning is defined as when a ‘behavioural action is elicited in response to a conditioned stimulus’ (Balsam, 2010). The World Health Organisation (1969) defines addiction as a ‘compulsion to take a drug on a periodic or continuous basis’. Whilst, Heather (1998) expresses it as ‘despite awareness of  consequential harm, involves the repeated use of drugs’.

The relationship between ingestion of drugs and the body’s neurological response and conditioning to the drugs is further exacerbated by tolerance and withdrawal. This is exemplified by John’s behavioural responses to his conditioned context. The three associative learning phenomena highlighted will be explored to demonstrate John’s smoking habits and his clear addiction to tobacco. Furthermore, the associative phenomena shall show how they lead to a pattern of relapse and inability to abstain from smoking.Classical conditioning is exemplified through the vignette of ‘John, the cigarette smoker’. The idea that John has been classically conditioned is identified through the four primary constituents; unconditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, conditioned stimulus and conditioned response.

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In the vignette, John ‘sharing a cigarette with friends’ and ‘enjoying the pleasant feeling of smoking tobacco’ are the unconditioned stimuli and unconditioned responses, respectively. This is the natural response as John ‘casually smokes with friends and enjoys the unconditioned effect of tobacco’.  John recalls ‘how many more cigarettes he would consume, when he was drinking alcohol’. In this case, the conditioned stimulus is the alcohol and his friends, as he has associated smoking more cigarettes with drinking alcohol in a social environment. The conditioned response to drinking alcohol when he is in this social context, is to smoke cigarettesClassical conditioning is a theory discovered by I.P Pavlov that may be defined as ‘changes in response or attitude to stimuli resulting from their contingent occurrence with other more potent stimuli’ (Rozin & Zellner, 1985). Ivan Pavlov initially demonstrated the phenomenon of classical conditioning when he conducted experiments on dogs. Pavlov showed some dogs some food and rang a bell.

The dogs developed an association of getting fed with the sound of the bell. Then over time, by simply ringing the bell the dogs salivated, their inherent response to the learned association of being fed with the sound of the bell. The dogs learned association of the bell, a neutral stimulus, with food had become conditioned. The salivation observed when the bell rang is the conditioned response to the now conditioned bell, a conditioned stimulus. Simply, Pavlov’s experiment demonstrates how past experiences can shape an organism’s behaviour.

Like Pavlov’s dogs, John’s social environment and drinking alcohol have been conditioned, such that whenever he is around the two conditioned stimuli, he is conditioned to smoke a cigarette. John’s unconditioned response to smoking cigarettes is the pleasant feelings he receives, however it is clear now that the social environment and alcohol encourages him to smoke as it is a learned association and behaviourJohn’s underlying classical conditioning will make it difficult to abstain from smoking and may lead to a pattern of relapse. John has been conditioned to smoke cigarettes in response to his conditioned contexts of friends and alcohol. So when John is placed in an environment where he has made an association with smoking cigarettes. John may find it hard to abstain with the strong bond he has made with being in these environments.

His negative feelings of being uncomfortable and agitated are perhaps a withdrawal symptom to him, and the solution is to smoke because these are unwanted feelings. This may lead John to a relapse in tobacco use.Instrumental conditioning is manifested in the vignette of ‘John, the cigarette smoker’ through his behavioural characteristics. This is evident through the positive reinforcement of ‘enjoying the pleasant feeling of smoking tobacco’, an outcome which will strengthen the behaviours undertaken to achieve the rewarding feelings he describes when smoking. The negative reinforcement of ‘feeling agitated and uncomfortable’ when John ‘goes without a cigarette’ further dissuades John to avoid smoking, and rather to relapse because he has associated positive outcomes of ‘pleasant feelings’ with smoking cigarettes.The bond of pleasant feelings John associates with smoking is strengthened and the agitation and uncomfortable bond is weakened in order to encourage John to obtain the ‘pleasant’ reward he associates with smoking.Instrumental conditioning is defined by an organisms ‘adaptability of actions to gain from the environment and being rewarded for the correct behaviours’ (Touretzky & Saksida, 1997).

Instrumental conditioning was demonstrated by B.F Skinner’s various experiments on birds and rats to show how their behaviours to achieve rewarding outcomes (reinforcers such as food) could be reinforced by the conditioning and repetition of the correct responses to the outcomes (Skinner, 1938). In essence, instrumental conditioning relates the learning of an association between response and its ramifications. The process is composed of reinforcers and punishments which are developed in a process in order to condition the individual to making the correct responses to capture the desired outcome.John’s instrumental conditioning will make it difficult to abstain from smoking and may lead to a pattern of relapse. As a result of the positive reinforcement of ‘enjoying the pleasant feeling of smoking tobacco’ and the negative reinforcement of ‘feelings of being uncomfortable and agitation’, John may find it difficult to abstain from smoking through his association of a positive reward with smoking compared to a negative stimulus of ‘agitation’ when not smoking. The actions taken by John to achieve a reward have been reinforced whereas the ‘agitation’ he feels dissuades him to abstain from smoking.Classical and instrumental behaviour are ‘distinguished by the consequences of the conditioned response’ (Grant, 1964 ).

In classical conditioning, the subjects behaviour is independent to the series of stimuli and responses, whereas in instrumental conditioning it is the learners response or inability to respond that determines the rewards or punishments that may occur (Grant, 1964). In essence, classical and instrumental conditioning are discerned by the role that the individual plays in determining the outcomes of a situation. In classical, the individual’s own decisions do not explicitly determine the consequences whereas in instrumental, the individuals voluntary actions do influence the outcomes. This is evident in the vignette, where the environment has been conditioned to him smoking cigarettes as opposed to him making the decision to smoke a cigarette to ‘relieve symptoms’.Conditioned withdrawal is manifested in the vignette through John’s behavioural characteristics in the environment. It is argued that social context of John in the context of ‘he’s out having a beer with his mates at the pub’ is the environmental cue behind a possible emergence of relapse. John says he finds it ‘particularly hard ….  feels greater unease, and stronger cravings when he is in these situations’ at the ‘pub’ which reinforces the idea that he may fall into a state of  relapse from smoking when in this environment with friends.

It is argued that this may be due to his association of symptoms of ‘being uncomfortable and agitated’ when in this social setting where he attempts to abstain from smoking.Conclusively, these three associative phenomena are clearly evident in the vignette. It is apparent that John demonstrates some conditioned behaviours when smoking cigarettes

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