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Encyclopedia of Psychology Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, Editor-in-Chief


Anger Dyscontrol and Regulation

Among hospitalized psychiatric patients in long-term care in both civil commitment and forensic institutions, anger is a salient problem, as identified by both clinical staff and by the patients themselves. Importantly, it is linked to assaultive behavior by psychiatric patients both inside and outside such facilities. Such patients typically have traumatic life histories, replete with experiences of abandonment and rejection, as well as economic and psychological impoverishment. For them, anger becomes entrenched as a mode of reactance to stressful or aversive experiences, and it is a significant aspect of their resistance to treatment. Chronically angry people are reluctant to surrender the anger-aggression system that they have found useful to engage and because they discount the costs of its engagement.


A number of studies of anhedonia in human subjects support the hypothesis that anhedonia involves a deficit in the anticipation of the experience of pleasure. For example, an anhedonic individual might not anticipate experiencing pleasure eating a tasty cookie, thus engendering no motivation to buy and eat the cookie.


Learning has been defined by Domjan (1998) as follows: “Learning is an enduring change in the mechanisms of behavior involving specific stimuli and responses that result from prior experience with those stimuli and responses” (p. 13).

C. Lloyd Morgan was among the first to travel the road to methodological sophistication in the scientific study of animal learning cognition. In his book, An Introduction to Comparative Psychology (1903; reprinted in 1993), Morgan was critical of the use of anecdotes by Darwin and Romanes. He offered a by now famous principle for the interpretation of animal behavior which is now known as Morgan’s canon. According to Morgan’s canon, in no case may we interpret an action as the outcome of the exercise of a higher psychological faculty, if it can be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of one which stands lower in the psychological scale (Morgan, 1906, p. 53). This principle has come to mean that simpler explanations of behavior should be tried before more complex ones are invoked.

Thorndike employed what has come to be known as instrumental learning. In an instrumental learning task a response in the presence of a discriminative stimulus produces a reward. For example, a hungry rat might obtain food by pressing a bar when a light flashes. Pavlov, in his monumental investigations, employed another procedure called either classical or Pavlovian conditioning. Under this procedure, stimuli are presented regardless of the animal’s behavior. For example, after the offset of a 5 s tone, food may be provided regardless of the animal’s behavior

Many new theories have been offered that look beyond the traditional continuity and reinforcement principle. It has been suggested, for example, that association formation may require surprisingness because animals may only process or attend to surprising events.

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