Escape and Avoidance

Responses that remove the learner from a situation (escape) are not the same as those that prevent a situation they don’t want to happen (avoidance).

With escape behaviours they are in the situation they would like to be out of. They do what they need to do to escape that situation.

In doing so they may well have learned the environmental cues (antecedent stimuli) that came before the aversive (what they wanted to escape from). So they learned the discriminative stimuli that signaled “aversive coming”. This is called a warning signal.

So the next time that stimulus appears they would rather not wait for the aversive situation to start and so they change their behaviour in an attempt to avoid the aversive. One of those behaviours may well have worked and the warning stimulus/signal was removed. Now they have learned avoidance behaviours.

The escape and avoidance behaviours may look the same or they may be different. If they look the same (topographically similar) they are not serving the same function. The behaviours result in different consequences….the behaviour has a different purpose and that is based on prior learning experience.

In the reading i have done there is no such thing as “escape avoidance behaviour”. There are behaviours the learner has found, through previous learning, will allow them to escape an aversive and there are behaviours the learner has found through previous learning that will prevent the aversive (avoidance).

Then what if the learner tries lots of stuff (responses) to try to escape or avoid an aversive and nothing works….they learn that nothing works and a state of learned helplessness can result.


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