Last night I posted about self-injury urges and honestly, I didn’t plan on fighting them much longer after I posted. However, I didn’t cut! Behaviorism helped. I’ve been cutting for 14 years now…Wow, that is more than half my life, sad… Anyway, cutting implements (razors, box cutters, etc.) are conditioned reinforcers for me. Simply seeing a tool makes me feel a little bit better. I held the box cutters for a while, set them next to me, and then drifted off to sleep. Yay, classical conditioning!
A reinforcer is anything that increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring again. That could be positive reinforcement, giving something a person wants (Ex. When a student answers a question correctly, giving them a piece of candy), or negative reinforcement, taking away something they dislike (Ex. The car obnoxiously beeps at you. Once you put it on, the beeping stops).
Primary reinforcers inherently make people happy like water, food, or lack of pain. Other things are neutral (Ex. Money, grades in school), but they can be paired with a primary reinforcer. If a neutral stimulus is paired with a primary reinforcer enough times, the neutral stimulus starts to elicit the same response as the primary reinforcer. In Pavlov’s famous dog experiment he rang bells while presenting food. Eventually, the dogs salivated when they heard the bell, without the presence of food. Before the experiment, hearing a bell did nothing, but seeing food automatically made them salivate.
If you’re wondering how pain can be an automatic-primary reinforcer… Some people don’t feel pain when they self-injure. I do. For me, pain distracts and obliterates my negative emotional state. I believe the pain distracts me and the neurotransmitters’ responses replace the fear/ worry/ anger/ sadness/ etc. with positive emotions.