One of the many theories about alcoholism is the learning and reinforcement theory, which explains alcoholism by considering alcohol ingestion as a reflex response to some stimulus and as a way to reduce an inner drive state such as fear or anxiety. Characterizing life situations in terms of approach and avoidance, this theory holds that persons tend to be drawn to pleasant situations and repelled by unpleasant ones. In the latter case, alcohol ingestion is said to reduce the tension or feelings of unpleasantness and to replace them with the feeling of euphoria generally observed in most persons after they have consumed one or more drinks.
Some experimental evidence tends to show that alcohol reduces fear in the approach-avoidance situation. Conger trained one group of rats to approach a food goal and, using aversion conditioning, trained another group to avoid electric shock. After an injection of alcohol the pull away from the shock was measurable weaker, while the pull toward the food was unchanged.
The obvious troubles experienced by alcoholic persons appear to contradict the learning theory in the explanation of alcoholism. The discomfort, pain, and punishment they experience should presumably serve as a deterrent to drinking. The fact that alcoholic persons continue to drink in the face of family discord, loss of employment, illness, and other sequels of repeated bouts is explained by the proximity of the drive reduction to the consumption of alcohol; that is, alcohol has the immediate effect of reducing tension while the unpleasant consequences of drunken behavior come only later. The learning paradigm, therefore, favors the establishment and repetition of the resort to alcohol.
In fact, the anxieties and feelings of guilt induced by the consequences of excessive alcohol ingestion may themselves become the signal for another bout of alcohol abuse. The way in which the cue for another bout could be the anxiety itself is explained by the process of stimulus generalization: conditions or events occurring at the time of reinforcement tend to acquire the characteristics of state of anxiety or fear, the emotional state itself takes on the properties of a stimulus, thus triggering another drinking bout.
The role of punishment is becoming increasingly important in formulating a cause of alcoholism based on the principles of learning theory. While punishment may serve to suppress a response, experiments have shown that in some cases it can serve as a reward and reinforce the behavior. Thus if the alcoholic person has learned to drink under conditions of both reward and punishment, either type of condition may precipitate renewed drinking.
Ample experimental evidence supports the hypothesis that excessive alcohol consumption can be learned. By gradually increasing the concentration of alcohol in drinking water, psychologists have been able to induce the ingestion of larger amounts of alcohol by an animal than would be normally consumed. Other researchers have been able to achieve similar results by varying the schedule of reinforcement—that is, by requiring the animal to consume larger and larger amounts of the alcohol solutions before rewarding it. In this manner, animals learn to drink enough to become dependent on alcohol in terms of demonstrating withdrawal symptoms.
Question: The primary purpose of the passage is to
- compare the learning and reinforcement theory to other theories of alcoholism
- discuss how the behavior of alcoholic persons is explained by learning theory
- argue that alcoholism is a learned behavior
- explain how fear and anxiety stimulate and reinforce drinking in alcoholic persons
- present experimental evidence in support of the learning and reinforcement theory of alcoholism
Question: The passage contains information that answers which of the following questions?
- What are some of the psychosocial problems associated with alcoholism?
- Which has proven more effective in the treatment of alcoholism, aversion conditioning or reinforcement?
- Why does alcohol ingestion reduce tension and give rise to a feeling of euphoria in most people?
- According to the learning theory, in what cases does punishment reinforce rather than deter drinking in alcoholic persons?
- Are some persons genetically predisposed to alcoholism?
Question: It can be inferred from the passage that aversion conditioning is based primarily on the principle that
- electric shock stimulates a response
- behavior that is punished will be avoided
- pain is a stronger stimulus than pleasure
- alcohol reduces fear
- behavior that is rewarded will be repeated
Question: According to the passage, which of the following is true of stimulus generalization?
- It contradicts the learning and reinforcement theory of alcoholism.
- It is the process by which an organism learns to respond to one stimulus but not to similar stimuli.
- It supports the hypothesis that excessive alcohol consumption can be learned.
- It explains why people tend to avoid behavior that is associated with painful experiences.
- It occurs when the conditions associated with a stimulus come to evoke the same response as the stimulus itself evokes.
Question: The author cites Conger’s experiment with two groups of rats in order to
- show that ingestion of alcohol does not affect appetite
- corroborate the findings of other academic researchers
- show that alcohol decreases fear
- disprove the learning and reinforcement theory
- convince the reader of the usefulness of behavioral research
Question: According to the passage, which of the following could induce an alcoholic to drink?
- I. The need to relieve tension
- II. Anxieties resulting from guilt feelings about previous drinking bouts
- III. Punishment for alcoholic behavior
- I only
- II only
Question: The passage contains information that supports which of the following statements?
- If the pleasurable taste of whisky leads to an acquired taste for brandy, then stimulus generalization has occurred.
- Slapping a child for misbehaving may over time encourage the child to repeat the misbehavior.
- If a person has learned to drink under two sets of conditions, both must be present in order to induce that person to drink again.
- Continued heavy use of alcohol usually causes severe damage to the body and nervous system.
- When consumed in moderation, alcohol may benefit health.
Question: According to the passage, how does the behavior of alcoholics appear to contradict learning theory?
- Learning theory holds that people are drawn by pleasant situations and repelled by unpleasant ones, but in alcoholics that pattern appears to be reversed.
- Contrary to learning theory, alcoholic persons do not respond to life situations in terms of approach and avoidance.
- The unpleasant consequences of excessive alcoholic consumption do not deter alcoholics from drinking, as might be predicted from learning theory.
- According to learning theory, drinking is a reflex response to an external stimulus, but for alcoholics it is more often a way to reduce an inner drive such as fear.
- Instead of the feeling of euphoria predicted by learning theory, alcoholics frequently experience discomfort and pain after drinking.
Question: It can be inferred from the passage that the author views the learning and reinforcement theory of alcoholism as
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