Psychological Self-Help

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of more puffs, cigarettes do more than taste good; they help the
smoker calm down; they become a handy tranquilizer; they become
an important part of the smoker's life. How? Unwittingly the smoker
pairs smoking with relaxation: after a meal, watching TV and having a
beer, during a rest period, after sex (Oh, yes!), etc. Therefore, a
relaxed response is conditioned to cigarettes. Naturally, an uptight
smoker would then habitually use smoking as a way to relax. It's
complex but more understandable why, in spite of the health hazards,
awful breath, and wasted money, smokers continue to smoke and find
it very hard to stop. 
Just as the payoffs for smoking are multiple and change over time,
the same is true for drinking or drugs. Another way of thinking about it
is that the "causes" change. For example, at first we may drink to
experiment or for excitement or to have fun with friends (see, I watch
the commercials). Later, depending on our unique needs, one person
may drink in order to socialize and to feel confident enough to
approach the opposite sex. Another person may learn to feel powerful
while drinking and become aggressive and argumentative; another
may enjoy the closeness and caring intimacy with his/her own sex.
Finally, a person may drink alone to deaden the pain of loneliness or
old age or marital problems or illness. As time passes, drinking serves
different purposes, probably several all mixed together. That makes it
harder to understand. 
Behaviors may continue without constant rewards
Indeed, the most persistent behavior is only occasionally rewarded,
called partial or intermittent reinforcement (Ferster & Culbertson,
1982). That's easy to see. Consider two salespeople, one sells a
product almost every time he/she approaches a customer, the other
sells another product only occasionally, say every 20-25 customers.
Which salesperson will continue trying to make a sale the longest
without getting discouraged and giving up (assuming no one is
buying)? The salesperson who has learned to expect a lot of
rejections. Consider another situation: Who will nag or complain the
longest? Person A who ordinarily gets his/her way as soon as he/she
gets unhappy or person B who doesn't always get his/her way but has
had to really get nasty and upset before the other person caves in?
Obviously, person B. Person A has had little experience dealing with
unresponsive individuals, whereas person B has been trained by some
people to expect the other person to give in if he/she gets very
Many of our behaviors are only occasionally reinforced. Gambling
and nagging are good examples. Being open and honest, bragging,
being seductive and flirting, working extra without pay, reading a self-
help article and so on, only occasionally yield a payoff. If these
behaviors get partially reinforced often enough, the behavior may
become remarkably persistent, as though it is a "part of you." On the
other hand, when too much work is required for the payoffs, we
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