Aversive Conditioning and Appetitive Conditioning

Experts introduced the terms aversive conditioning and appetitive conditioning in the third generation of therapies. Find out more here!
Aversive Conditioning and Appetitive Conditioning
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 28 July, 2022

Experts introduced the terms aversive conditioning and appetitive conditioning in the third generation of therapies. Sometimes, they’re also known as contextual therapies. They’re very interesting concepts because they’re directly related to our behavior.

Aversive conditioning and appetitive conditioning are mainly related to motivation. They also have to do with how power is exercised, both at a general level, like the State, and on a more personal level.

These two ways of exercising control have very important effects on your state of mind and your attitude towards life. They’re present all the time. Therefore, they affect your behavior and other people’s behavior without you even noticing it. Let’s take a closer look at what this is all about.

“It’s so ironic that one of the few things in this life over which we all have total control is our attitude yet most of us live our entire life behaving as though we had no control whatsoever.”

-Jim Rohn-

A man running away from his anxiety.

Aversive Conditioning

Aversive conditioning includes all those factors that condition your aversive behaviorIn particular, these factors lead you to avoid certain situations in your environment. Therefore, the person behaves in ways that allow them to avoid something they consider unpleasant or painful.

Here are some examples:

  • A person runs away desperately because they think they’re being chased by someone who wants to hurt them. In this case, the pursuer conditions the behavior of the person they’re chasing. The latter wants to avoid their aggressor.
  • A girl falls into a pool and swallows a mouthful of water. Afterward, she walks very carefully whenever she’s near water. In fact, she never wants to go back into a pool ever again. Therefore, what happened to her conditioned her aversion to water.
  • A student doesn’t finish their homework because they were with their friends. Thus, they tell their teacher they were sick and therefore couldn’t finish their homework. They lie to avoid the consequences of their irresponsibility.
  • A man avoids talking frankly with his boss. When he was a kid, his parents raised him in a very restrictive environment. They forbade him from expressing his opinions. Whenever he has to talk to an authority figure, he feels very afraid. And that’s why he avoids it, even if he really needs to do it.

Appetitive Conditioning

Appetitive conditioning is a form of conditioning were will and desire have control. In other words, it corresponds to situations when your desire to get something you consider positive motivates your behavior.

Here are some examples:

  • A person jogs every day because they’re following an exercise plan. Furthermore, they’ve set a goal of reaching a certain speed or level of resistance. Thus, their motivation comes from their will to improve their performance.
  • A girl goes into a pool and has fun playing in the water. Every time she sees a pool, she tries to jump in the water. In fact, for her, swimming is synonymous with playing. She does this because she enjoys it.
  • A student who didn’t do their homework confesses to the teacher and apologizes. Although the teacher gives them a bad grade, they now trust the student more. Therefore, in this case, the relationship is more important than the fear of punishment.
  • A man talks to his boss and other authority figures whenever he needs or wants to say something he considers relevant to his job. He does so honestly and respectfully, but without fear.

The common denominator in all of these cases is the factor of desire. In every case, the person acts a certain way because they want to do so and considers it beneficial. They have control over their actions. And, in each situation, their actions reinforce their well-being.

A fish jumping from one fish bowl to another.

Aversive Conditioning and Appetitive Conditioning

We can extend the concepts of aversive conditioning and appetitive conditioning to greater social levels. For example, the State’s laws are full of sanctions for those who don’t conform to the legal frameworks it sets.

Many people act to try to avoid punishments and sanctions. Society seldom rewards good actions. Instead, it punishes those they consider bad. Thus, aversive conditioning and appetitive conditioning rarely exist together in the real world. Aversive conditioning mostly predominates.

A mind made up of Tetris pieces.

At the macro and micro level, aversive conditioning generates fear, sadness, and submission. On the other hand, appetitive conditioning gives rise to happy, free and courageous societies and people. Aversive conditioning and appetitive conditioning aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, in many cases, they co-exist in people.

Which of these types of conditioning exist in your life and where do they affect you?

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.