Skip to main content

Operant and Adverse Conditioning To Stop Smoking

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

This is a behavioral treatment, can be used with anything not just stop smoking

Stop Smoking

Stop Smoking

Operant and Adverse Conditioning

I finished this paper today for psychology and thought I would publish my findings.. tell me what you think..

Describe how a therapist might use both aversive conditioning and operant conditioning techniques to help a client overcome a compulsive habit of smoking more than three packs of cigarettes a day. Be clear about the exact procedures the therapist would use.

I will explain what operant conditioning and adverse conditioning is and how a therapist might use both therapies to help a client overcome a habit of smoking. It is a long process depending on the client and if the client has it in their mind to stop smoking.

Operant conditioning is the use of rewards and punishments to increase the performance of a desired behavior or decrease or eliminate an undesirable one. A subject can be rewarded either by being given something pleasurable (positive reward) or removing something unpleasant (negative reward). Punishments can also be positive (the subject receives an unpleasant sensation or consequence) or negative (the subject loses something pleasant.) For operant conditioning to work, the rewards and punishments should be reliable. If smoking is only punished some of the time or nonsmoking is only rewarded occasionally, it will take longer for the operant conditioning to work. (

Skinner introduced a new term into the Law of Effect - Reinforcement. Behavior which is reinforced tends to be repeated (i.e. strengthened); behavior which is not reinforced tends to die out-or be extinguished (i.e. weakened). Skinner (1948) studied operant conditioning by conducting experiments using animals which he placed in a “Skinner Box” which was similar to Thorndike’s puzzle box. B.F. Skinner (1938) coined the term operant conditioning; it means roughly changing of behavior by the use of reinforcement which is given after the desired response. Skinner identified three types of responses or operant that can follow behavior. Skinner coined the term operant conditioning; it means roughly changing of behavior by the use of reinforcement which is given after the desired response. Skinner identified three types of responses or operant that can follow behavior.

• Neutral operant: responses from the environment that neither increase nor decrease the probability of a behavior being repeated.

• Reinforce: Responses from the environment that increase the probability of a behavior being repeated. Reinforce can be either positive or negative.

• Punishers: Response from the environment that decrease the likelihood of a behavior being repeated. Punishment weakens behavior. ( www.simplypsychology) (General Psychology 172)

The therapist, knowing operant conditioning techniques take some time may begin this slow process by discussing what caused the client to start smoking in the first place. She/he will be non-judgmental in the way they discuss with the client by asking open ended questions like “tell me about the first time you tried a cigarette”. The therapist wants to get the client to open up to them and not feel threatened by this process and help them open their mind to the reasons they started in the first place.

The therapist will gain the confidence of the client and build a repore with him or her by making him feel comfortable in their surroundings. Soft music could be playing in the back ground; there could be visual stimulation like a relaxing fish tank in the center of the room. The therapist wants the client to be able to come into the office and feel comfortable in his surroundings so they could begin the process of learning to overcome this behavior that they want to modify. The therapist will have the client take an active role and show some responsibility for his own behavior.

Some examples of the therapy could include (and the client can help decide this) remember he has to agree to his therapy, when the client wants to light up a cigarette he can have pamphlets out reminding him of the health effects of cigarettes. If his condition to quit is because he wants to get healthier, a positive reaction could be that he takes the dog for a walk. He could monitor his smoking and be mindful of what time he smokes. He should keep a running diary of his process. “What was happening at the time he decided to pick up a cigarette?” They must find the triggers and change how he responds.

Scroll to Continue

They can then decide what is going to be the reward every time he is going to pick up a cigarette and if he decides at that point not too, he should reward himself with some small prize; for instance, call a friend and go have a coffee or put money away every time he thinks about it but doesn’t pick up one.

They decided the rewards, now to decide on the punishment. In operant conditioning it is important that the client understand that there are consequence’s to everything they do. A natural consequence of smoking is that the client experiences difficult time breathing, or he may have to sleep in fowlers position in order to ease up his breathing at night, eventually will have to have a CPAC machine to open airways at night. These are all biological factors that will help to influence his decision.

The client again is an adult and has to choose his punishment. He may choose to not be able to watch his favorite television show or he may choose to have to rake the yard or clean up garbage area if he does not prefer doing that. These are choices that the therapist and him will agree to and he will be keeping a diary.

As with other behavior therapies, aversion therapy is a treatment grounded in learning theory—one of its basic principles being that all behavior is learned and that undesirable behaviors can be unlearned under the right circumstances. Aversion therapy is an application of the branch of learning theory called classical conditioning. Within this model of learning, an undesirable behavior, such as a deviant sexual act, is matched with an unpleasant (aversive) stimulus. The unpleasant feelings or sensations become associated with that behavior, and the behavior will decrease in frequency or stop altogether. Aversion therapy differs from those types of behavior therapy based on principles of operant conditioning. In operant therapy, the aversive stimulus, usually called punishment, is presented after the behavior rather than together with it. (

In aversive conditioning, the client is exposed to an unpleasant stimulus while engaging in the targeted behavior, the goal being to create an aversion to it. In adults, aversive conditioning is often used to combat addictions such as smoking or alcoholism. One common method is the administration of a nausea-producing drug while the client is smoking or drinking so that unpleasant associations are paired with the addictive behavior. In addition to smoking and alcoholism, aversive therapy has also been used to treat nail biting, sex addiction, and other strong habits or addictions. In the past, electroconvulsive therapy was sometimes administered as a form of aversion therapy for certain disorders. (

This conditioning requires the therapist to be a little more aggressive in the therapy. This will depend on the client’s needs. If the client has an unwilling desire to cooperate, this conditioning method can be a non-productive method. If a person wants something they are going to find a way to get it. It’s just my opinion but through experience this is what I find to be true.

The therapist could combine the treatment with operant conditioning by getting more aggressive in the approach to the therapy. This of course again has to be a condition where the client agrees. Part of the therapy in this could be the knowing or the education of how cigarettes’ effects health could actually work. If the client values life or their family or children the adverse effects of smoking may just be the trigger they need to stop. Adverse therapy can be used for example by having the smoker not smoke in the house and have to be outside in winter to smoke. I know that would slow me down. Also it can be used with switching the brand of cigarette to something that tastes very nasty to the client. The punishment would be that the cigarette gave them a bad taste. Hopefully they will associate that taste with the cigarette. The reconditioning of the brain is like a circuit that has to be re booted in effect; for example: changing the negative behavior with a positive one. Instead of deciding to smoke cigarette, client can do something much more positive, for example, it’s cold outside, since I don’t need a cigarette I can chill out with a good book or watch a favorite television show without any disturbances.

In conclusion I believe these therapies have so much significance and with appropriate procedures in place and the right conditions they can be used effectively. The client has to be a willing participant in both therapies and learn to take responsibilities for his own actions.

Work’s Cited Page




Ø General Psychology 172 text book


Related Articles