Avoidance learning occurs when an individual's behavior prevents exposure to an unpleasant consequence. This arrangement, or contingency, is pervasive in everyday life. For example, in writing a mortgage check each month, the homeowner does so not because this behavior is immediately pleasurable but, rather, it avoids conflict with, and possible foreclosure by, a financial lender. Or, consider the motorist who is traveling above the speed limit posted on a highway. Upon seeing the blinking light of a police vehicle ahead, the driver slows down to avoid a negative encounter with law enforcement. It might be said, in fact, that learning by avoidance is what motivates most people most of the time.
Avoidance learning has its roots in experimental psy chology and conditioning theory. This chapter describes its theoretical basis, reviews conceptual issues, and discusses the role of avoidance learning in clinical psychology.
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