Author(s): Bouton ME
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Abstract Unhealthy behavior is responsible for much human disease, and a common goal of contemporary preventive medicine is therefore to encourage behavior change. However, while behavior change often seems easy in the short run, it can be difficult to sustain. This article provides a selective review of research from the basic learning and behavior laboratory that provides some insight into why. The research suggests that methods used to create behavior change (including extinction, counterconditioning, punishment, reinforcement of alternative behavior, and abstinence reinforcement) tend to inhibit, rather than erase, the original behavior. Importantly, the inhibition, and thus behavior change more generally, is often specific to the "context" in which it is learned. In support of this view, the article discusses a number of lapse and relapse phenomena that occur after behavior has been changed (renewal, spontaneous recovery, reinstatement, rapid reacquisition, and resurgence). The findings suggest that changing a behavior can be an inherently unstable and unsteady process; frequent lapses should be expected. In the long run, behavior-change therapies might benefit from paying attention to the context in which behavior change occurs. Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
This article was published in Prev Med
and referenced in International Journal of Swarm Intelligence and Evolutionary Computation