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Prev Med. 2014 Nov;68:29-36. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.06.010. Epub 2014 Jun 15.

Why behavior change is difficult to sustain.

Author information

1
University of Vermont, USA. Electronic address: Mark.Bouton@uvm.edu.

Abstract

Unhealthy behavior is responsible for much human disease, and a common goal of contemporary preventive medicine is therefore to encourage behavior change. However, while behavior change often seems easy in the short run, it can be difficult to sustain. This article provides a selective review of research from the basic learning and behavior laboratory that provides some insight into why. The research suggests that methods used to create behavior change (including extinction, counterconditioning, punishment, reinforcement of alternative behavior, and abstinence reinforcement) tend to inhibit, rather than erase, the original behavior. Importantly, the inhibition, and thus behavior change more generally, is often specific to the "context" in which it is learned. In support of this view, the article discusses a number of lapse and relapse phenomena that occur after behavior has been changed (renewal, spontaneous recovery, reinstatement, rapid reacquisition, and resurgence). The findings suggest that changing a behavior can be an inherently unstable and unsteady process; frequent lapses should be expected. In the long run, behavior-change therapies might benefit from paying attention to the context in which behavior change occurs.

KEYWORDS:

Behavior change; Behavioral inhibition; Context; Contingency management; Relapse

PMID:
24937649
PMCID:
PMC4287360
DOI:
10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.06.010
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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