This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 05 table of contents.

Treatment of Uncontrollable Sneezing

If you try to identify the common element in problems that respond well to aversive treatment, they often involve a "stuck circuit"—a biologically based behavior pattern that, for some reason, is triggered again and again with self-injurious consequences. In these cases, one could argue, punishment therapy is justifiable, even merciful, because it is so quick and effective.

Consider another case reported by Whaley and Mallott. It involves uncontrollable sneezing in a 17-year-old girl. She sneezed every few minutes for six months. Her parents spent thousands of dollars consulting with medical specialists, but nobody could help. The problem was solved (again) with mild electric shocks.

How does the case history of the sneezing girl illustrate therapeutic use of electric shock?

The shock began as soon as the sneeze was emitted and lasted for half a second after its cessation. Within a few hours the sneezing became less frequent, and six hours later it had stopped completely. For the first time in six months...the girl spent a full night and day without a single sneeze. Two days later she was discharged from the hospital and, with occasional subsequent applications of the shock apparatus, her sneezing remained under control.

...The total time that the teenager actually received shocks during the entire treatment was less than three minutes. (Whaley & Mallott, 1971)

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