Cautela, J. R., & Kearney, A. J. (1986). The covert conditioning handbook. New York, NY: Springer. pp. 38-42.

Covert negative reinforcement is designed to increase the probability of a response by instructing a client to imagine an aversive event and to terminate that event by imagining an event that is to be increased. This was originally developed for clients (e.g., depression sufferers) who could not imagine positive scenes.

It is suggested that features to be included are as follows.

  1. Include emotional scenes as well, for example, need emotional responses.
  2. Identify aversive scenes and stimuli in which escape occurs.
  3. The following are characteristics of an aversive stimulus:

An example of use is: To eliminate fear of failing in a race imagine being in a car accident and then shift to sculling beautifully in a race.

Total elimination of the aversive scene is needed. If it cannot be achieved then a new aversive stimulus should be tried.

Must avoid scenes which produce nausea or those which disrupt client cooperation.

With this procedure it has been shown that aversive properties are reduced by repeated use (a beneficial side-effect).

To date only escape conditioning has been used with covert negative reinforcement.

CNR has been applied to tantrums, social anxiety, alcoholism, fear of breezes, and agoraphobia.

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