There are some advantages for covert conditioning: (1) the ideas
are simple, (2) no help, no special environment, and no equipment is
needed, (3) there are almost no limits to what can be done in fantasy-
-vomiting, instant sex of any kind, vacations, hurting oneself, etc., and
(4) it can be done anytime (since your head is almost always with
you). But does it work?
The research centers on covert sensitization. It has worked fairly
well with sexual deviations (homosexuality, exhibitionists, incest) but
not very well with obesity, alcohol, or smoking (Bellack and Hersen,
1977). More research is needed with the other covert methods.
The results are promising enough to try these methods, especially
if the approach has an appeal to you and is believable. Remember the
research thus far has been done with long-term clinical disorders, not
Cautela, J. R. Covert conditioning. In A. Jacobs & L. Sachs
(Eds.), The psychology of private events. New York: Academic
Extinction; making sure the behavior doesnt pay off
If a behavior yields no pay off, it should gradually stop, i.e. be
extinguished. Thus, it is sometimes better to disregard an unwanted
response than to punish it. Extinction and punishment lead to the
same results: stopping some behavior. However, in extinction the
unwanted response is allowed to occur freely. The person learns "this
behavior just doesn't work; it gets no results at all." Note the striking
contrast with the person whose behavior is punished by someone else,
the punishee might think, "Wow, they (the punishers) are really upset.
Well, maybe I'll cool it while they are around but I know how to drive
them crazy if I ever want to. I'm powerful!"
In this method, we remove the reinforcement of unwanted
behavior, but the neglect of good, desired behavior (that's extinction
too) is the source of many problems in the world. Parents and teachers
attend far more to bad than to good behavior; we forget to tell the
people closest to us that we love and appreciate them; we take our
own good behavior for granted but get upset by failures, etc. Thinking
by the brain is required for reinforcement and for extinction (where
you have to think, "I'm not going to respond to this."
To stop or reduce an unwanted behavior.
To do the above without harsh, unpleasant punishment.