Friday, July 15, 2011

This is the first time Reward and Consent's (R+C) covered Applied Behavioral Analysis's (ABA's) extremely painful electric skin shock, this time of smokers.

Powell and Azrin (1968) asked twenty male adult smokers to undergo an experiment in their everyday setting where a special cigarette box wired to electrodes held in place by a Plexiglass case and a stretch bandage delivered electric shock to the arms of the subjects whenever they opened the box. Six of the twenty volunteered and three of the six completed the experiment. For each of the three who remained, higher magnitudes of shock intensity caused lower rates of cigarette smoking per hour when compared to the pre-punished levels of smoking. After the shock was lifted, their smoking resumed to pre-punished levels. Participants had signed consent forms.

The results from the three main subjects show that punishment can suppress behavior in humans. The results of those who refused the intervention and those who dropped out show that aversive stimuli can cause escape and avoidance behavior in humans.

This experiment demonstrates that the principles of behavior analysis do indeed apply to fully-cognizant adults? Do they always apply? How similar are these results to the experiments on non-human animals?

Please note. I do not recommend using punitive techniques to quit smoking. The behavior analysts have developed more recent techniques that use positive reinforcement. Google the "Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis" and search the journal under the keyword "smoking." There are many studies on smoking. I would start with this one: Effects of an internet-based voucher reinforcement program for smoking abstinence. Contact the authors of the studies to see if they can recommend any behavioral programs to quit smoking.


Powell, J. & Azrin, N. (1968) The effects of shock as a punisher for cigarette smoking. [Electronic version]. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 63-71. Retrieved July 15, 2011 from U.S. National Institutes of Health PubMed Central database Web site:

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I am an advocate for people with disabilities certified to teach special education with a Master of Arts in Teaching. I am not a Licensed Psychologist or a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. When in doubt, seek the advice of an MD, a PhD, or a BCBA. My ability to analyze the ethics of ABA stems from the fact that I am disabled and ABA interventions are often done to people like me, which I voluntarily accept, but only when I alone am the person granting consent, and not a parent, sibling, guardian, or institution.