Recent Experiments in Psychology

By Leland W. Crafts; Theodore C. Schneirla et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIX
METHODS OF BREAKING UNDESIRABLE HABITS

INTRODUCTION

The question as to how an undesirable habit can best be eliminated is a problem which almost everyone encounters sooner or later. A person is likely to meet this problem first of all in his own behavior, unless he is one of those rare individuals who are either perfectly adjusted to their environment or wholly satisfied with their existing characteristics. If he escapes the problem in his own individual life, it is probable that he will meet it in connection with the troubles of some less fortunate friend or relative whom he is called upon to aid. If he becomes a parent, he will probably find that at times the undesirable habits of his children raise problems quite as crucial as their bodily health ever presents. And if he chances to become a psychiatrist1 A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the treatment of nervous and "mental" diseases and defects. or a clinical psychologist, his lifework may consist largely of trying to change for the better the habits of his patients.

Since the problem of habit breaking is of such widespread importance, it is not surprising that psychologists have given great attention to it, especially in clinical work and in connection with their study of learning, inhibition, and forgetting. Their work and experience, together with the knowledge accumulated from psychiatric practice, have made possible the formulation of certain general methods of eliminating undesirable habits. It must be admitted that, since these methods are in the nature of general rules or principles, they cannot in themselves be expected to supply immediate solutions for all of the various specific difficulties that characterize each individual problem. Nevertheless, it is the general principles that furnish the essential basis from which one may develop detailed procedures adapted to varying individual needs.

A method of habit breaking is a method for bringing about the

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