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Psycology » Psychiatry and psychotherapy » Neurosis: Part I » Neuroses as a violation of learning

Learning theory models suggest mechanisms by which the experience of childhood and later life cause neurosis. There are two types of theory. Proponents of the first type, the position of which can be found on the example of works Mowrer (1950) and Dollard, Miller (1950), take some aetiological mechanisms proposed by Freud, and make an attempt to explain them in terms of learning mechanisms. So, while the displacement is treated as a kind of equivalent to avoidance learning, emotional conflict is equated to the conflict approach-avoidance, and the shift to associative learning. While these parallels are of some interest, this method has not led to significant advances in the understanding of neurosis. Theories of the second type reject Freud's ideas and try to explain neurosis based directly on concepts borrowed from experimental psychology. With this approach, the alarm condition is considered as a stimulant (pulse), whereas other symptoms are considered a manifestation of learned behavior, which serves as a reinforcement for them caused by reduction in the intensity of the pulse. This wording should refute those objections that passes quickly learned behavior, if it does not support, while neurotic behavior may persevere for years without explicit reinforcement.
Mowrer (1950) tried to solve this neurotic paradox, proposing a two-stage theory: the first stage of neutral stimuli become sources of anxiety through the classical mechanism of formation of a conditioned reflex, and the second avoidance reduce this anxiety. It is this reduction of anxiety in the second stage, according to the author of the theory, and acts as a reinforcement, thus preserving the neurotic behavior.
Eysenck (1976) suggested explanation is close to that described above. His idea about the incubation effect is based on the observation that if the conditioned stimulus does not produce excitation, then jerk it fades away (as was shown in experiments to develop Pavlov conditioned reflexes in animals, in which the process has been studied and inhibition of these reflexes), while producing excitation of the conditioned stimulus with repetition is not quenched, but rather enhanced. This gain is called incubation.
Eysenck suggested that the neuroses relevant conditioned stimuli produce anxiety, which acts as a stimulus, causing frustration and prolong the incubation. As noted above, Eysenck in his attempts to uncover the mechanism of development of the theory of neurosis associated with learning personality variables. He suggested that neuroticism reflects autonomic reactivity, ie the willingness of the autonomic nervous system to react to stressors development of anxiety. It was also suggested that the second variable introversion-extraversion indicates how easy is it in the process of learning is formed inhibition. Individuals with a weak tendency to such inhibition (introverts) in childhood seems to be more susceptible to assimilate social norms, they have a higher chance of developing further anxiety, phobic and obsessive disorders. Those with a more pronounced tendency to inhibition (extroverts) who respond poorly to learning social norms and they adulthood rather develop hysteria or antisocial behavior. This concept seems to be quite satisfactory from the theoretical point of view, but it is not confirmed by the results of studies of patients (see: Gossop 1981 review).


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