Over the past century, science and technology have made tremendous discoveries in the fields of health and medicine. The human body on its own is an intricate machine, but when the mind is thrown into the equation, matters become even more complex.
The following study (Alexander et al, 1973) deals with the case of a 15-year-old boy suffering from a chronic coughing that was ruining his life.
Within the space of 14 months, he is admitted to hospital 25 times (nearly twice a month), and 8 times to hospital emergency rooms. He also misses a total of 113 days of school and the coughing is sometimes so severe he loses consciousness.
Finally, he is admitted to the Children’s Asthma Research Institute and Hospital (CARIH). Despite the severity of his condition, doctors cannot find an organic basis for the cough — there is nothing physically wrong with him.
After 8 months, he seems to have recovered from his condition and is sent back home. But soon, his symptoms return more severe than ever, so he is readmitted to the CARIH.
As they investigate further, the team discover that while the boy’s cough is being triggered by specific scents at home, it has an additional function — it makes the boy the center of attention within the family and is the main mode through which he interacts with his mother.
They conclude the boy’s condition is psychological, so they recommend treatment via electric jolts to help him suppress it.
During the treatment sessions, the boy is made to inhale the scents that are known to trigger his cough and then to suppress his cough for a set number of seconds. If he fails to do so, he receives a noticeable but harmless electric jolt to the forearm.
At first the boy becomes upset at the treatment but he is reassured by the therapists and continues to cooperate. As he manages to suppress his cough for longer periods, he starts to take pride in his increased control over his condition.
With just two hours of treatment, he manages to suppress it completely, and no longer feels the urge to cough when inhaling the scents that had previously caused him to cough so violently.
Monthly follow-ups show that 18 months after treatment, the boy is still free of his chronic cough despite having been exposed numerous times to the scents that used to trigger his condition.
This treatment of compulsive behavior by electric jolts is not a one-off case. For the past century, researchers have been using this method to successfully treat cases of compulsive behavior such as scratching, hand washing and hair pulling.
There are also documented cases of curing habits such as smoking, alcoholism, overeating, and gambling, as well as addictions including the chronic use of marijuana and heroin.
But the big bad list of habits doesn’t end there, and we’re all likely to have a couple of them on our daily roster. It would seem those electric jolts are the key to ridding us of these happiness parasites.
Alexander, A. B., Chai, H., Creer, T. L., Miklich, D. R., Renne, C. M., &; Cardoso, R. D. A. (1973). The elimination of chronic cough by response suppression shaping. Journal Of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 4(1), 75–80. https://doi.org/10.1016/0005-7916(73)90045-1
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Habits, Technology & Behavioral Change