Biofeedback and Self-regulation

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 35–43 | Cite as

Effects of discrete visual feedback on the electrodermal control of a stressful situation

  • R. A. Burns
Original Articles


Two groups of human volunteers received three sessions of discriminated avoidance and punishment with the skin resistance response (SRR) as the operant. During each session one group (feedback) received three 6–8-min periods of Sidman avoidance of a 1.5-mA shock (R-S=40 sec, S-S=35 sec) mixed with three periods of punishment with a 20-sec time-out after each period. The avoidance and punishment periods were signaled by red and green lights, and a circle appeared superimposed on the discriminative stimuli for the duration of a criterion response. A second group (no feedback) received the same conditions as the feedback group except that no circle appeared. Instructions to the subject were not informative regarding experimental events. Subjects made significantly more SRR's during avoidance, a contingency in which responding prevented shock, than during punishment, a contingency in which responding produced shock. A reliable four-way interaction suggested that the feedback stimulus curtailed a tendency for avoidance response rate to diminish within and between experimental sessions. The data are considered as evidence for electrodermal (autonomic) control of two different stressful situations, and the potential value of the paradigm for establishing tonic autonomic arousal and suppression is considered.


Experimental Session Visual Feedback Green Light Stressful Situation Criterion Response 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Asratyan, E. A.Compensatory adaptation, reflex activity and the brain. New York: Oxford, 1965.Google Scholar
  2. Black, A. H. Mediating mechanisms of conditioning.Conditional Reflex 1970,5 140–152.Google Scholar
  3. Burch, N. R., & Greiner, T. H. A bioelectric scale of human alertness: Concurrent recordings of the EEG and GSR. Psychiatric Research Report No. 12, American Psychiatric Association, 1960, pp. 183–193.Google Scholar
  4. Church, R. M. Systematic effect of random error in the yoked control design.Psychological Bulletin 1964,62 122–131.Google Scholar
  5. Dunham, P. J. Contrasted conditions of reinforcement: A selective critique.Psychological Bulletin 1968,69 295–315.Google Scholar
  6. Freeman, B. J. Behavioral contrast: Reinforcement frequency or response suppression?Psychological Bulletin 1971,75 347–356.Google Scholar
  7. Greene, W. A., & Sutor, L. T. Stimulus control of skin resistance responses on an escape-avoidance schedule.Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 1971,16 269–274.Google Scholar
  8. Greenhouse, S. W., & Geisser, S. On methods in the analysis of profile data.Psychometrika 1959,24 95–112.Google Scholar
  9. Katkin, E. S., & Murray, E. N. Instrumental conditioning of autonomically mediated behavior: Theoretical and methodological issues.Psychological Bulletin 1968,70 52–68.Google Scholar
  10. Kimmel, H. D. Instrumental conditioning of autonomically mediated behavior.Psychological Bulletin 1967,67 337–345.Google Scholar
  11. Kimmel, H. D. Instrumental conditioning. In W. F. Prokasy & D. C. Raskin (Eds.),Electrodermal activity in psychological research. New York: Academic Press, 1973.Google Scholar
  12. Kimmel, H. D., Brennan, A. F., McLeod, D. C., Raich, M. S., & Schonfeld, L. I. Instrumental electrodermal conditioning in the monkey (Cebus albifrons): Acquisition and long-term retention.Animal Learning and Behavior 1979,7 447–451.Google Scholar
  13. Kimmel, H. D., & Burns, R. A. Adaptational aspects of conditioning. In W. K. Estes (Ed.),Handbook of learning and cognitive processes (Vol. 2). Clifton, New Jersey: Erlbaum, 1975.Google Scholar
  14. Kimmel, H. D., & Burns, R. A. Inter-effector influences in operant autonomic control. In J. Beatty & H. Legewie (Eds.),Biofeedback and behavior. New York: Plenum Press, 1977. (a)Google Scholar
  15. Kimmel, H. D., & Burns, R. A. The difference between conditioned tonic anxiety and conditioned phasic fear: Implications for behavior therapy. In C. D. Spielberger & I. G. Sarason (Eds.),Stress and anxiety (Vol. 4), Washington, D.C.: Hemisphere Press, 1977. (b).Google Scholar
  16. Kimmel, H. D., & Kimmel, E. Inter-effector influences in operant autonomic conditioning.Psychonomic Science 1967,9 191–192.Google Scholar
  17. Lawrence, G. M. The use of biofeedback for performance enhancement in stress environments. In I. G. Sarason & C. D. Spielberger (Eds.),Stress and anxiety (Vol. 3). Washington, D.C.: Hemisphere Press, 1976.Google Scholar
  18. Mowrer, O. H. A stimulus-response analysis of anxiety and its role as a reinforcing agent.Psychological Review 1939,46 553–565.Google Scholar
  19. Orne, M., & Paskewitz, D. Aversive situational effects on alpha feedback training.Science 1974,186 458–460.Google Scholar
  20. Skinner, B. F.The behavior of organisms. New York: Appleton, 1938.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. A. Burns
    • 1
  1. 1.Charles L. Mix Laboratory, Department of PsychologyGeorgia Southwestern CollegeAmericus

Personalised recommendations