VICIOUS CIRCLE BEHAVIOR
Physiology learns based on the learning configurations embedded in your choices. You don’t eat breakfast every morning for a week, and next thing you know you aren’t hungry anymore in the mornings. Or, visa versa, you travel with friends who eat breakfast, so you do also for social reasons; next thing you know you are ravenous in the mornings. This is classical conditioning at work, based on your decisions about when to eat and when not to. Breathing behaviors are acquired the same way. What your biology learns, however, is not always positive and adaptive.
Vicious circle avoidance learning involves the interaction of classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and cognitive learning. For example, fear may be classically conditioned to the “waiting period” between breaths, which may then provide the motivation for operant learning of “aborting the exhale” and “rapid breathing.” The behaviors are then short-term reinforced with fear reduction (negative reinforcement). The likely ensuing overbreathing may trigger “shortness of breath,” a common symptom of hypocapnia, which may then confirm false beliefs, cognitive learning about how “I can’t get my breath.” The solution, of course, is to reach for yet more air, which may then result in a downward spiral leading to a crisis episode, e.g., an asthma attack or panic attack. Adverse physical conditions, e.g., injury or asthma, in fact, can set the ideal stage for learning this kind self-sustaining vicious circle behavior.
Vicious circle behavior may develop, where the solution to a problem, becomes the problem. Depleting bicarbonate buffers through chronic (long-term) overbreathing, in predisposed individuals, may mean that even during aerobic activities there are not adequate buffer reserves to manage lactic acidosis. Thus, even minimal effort, such a walking through a supermarket, may result in lactic acidosis. Overbreathing, a contributing cause to the problem, now also becomes its own short-term solution. When bicarbonate reserve is too low, pH can be adjusted toward normal by reducing carbon dioxide levels through overbreathing. Click here to learn more about acid-base balance.
in operant learning is simultaneous classical conditioning. The reinforcement of an operant behavior
serves as a unconditioned stimulus (UCS) and elicits an unconditioned response
(UCR). A version of the UCR becomes
attached to the discriminative stimulus (SD) as a CR, by virtue of
classical conditioning. Thus, one
stimulus serves two roles: SD and CS. It triggers both the operantly and
classically conditioned responses. The
CS may then provide motivation for the operant behavior.
Sugar addiction is a more formal example. “Feeling bad about yourself,” an SD, triggers eating behavior (an operant) that is reinforced with the taste of food. The food (UCS) leads to secretion of insulin (UCR) for controlling blood sugar levels. “Feeling bad about yourself,” now associated with the food by virtue of your behavior, becomes a CS that triggers insulin secretion (CR), and thus lowers blood sugar. Low blood sugar, hypoglycemia, results in hunger, irritability, and anxiety. You feel worse about yourself and the motivation for eating (hunger) increases.
Behavioral Physiology Institute,