Four theories are presented to account for addiction, defined as a high rate of consumption of a substance that is ultimately harmful to the organism. The theories are teleological and behavioral in the sense that the ultimate motivational forces they posit lie in the environmental context of behavior—in an economic utility function or a process of behavioral adjustment—rather than in an internal physiological or cognitive mechanism. A theory by the psychologists Richard Herrnstein and Drazen Prelec is discussed that shows how melioration (maximization of local, as opposed to overall, or global, utility) may lead down a “primrose path” to addiction. A theory by the economists Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy shows how a primrose path may exist even when overall utility is maximized—provided that utility of temporally distant events is discounted. Two other theories, one by George Stigler and Gary Becker and one introduced here, an elaboration of the Stigler-Becker theory called “relative addiction,” specify economic properties of addictive substances that would create the primrose path.
Ainslie, G. (1992).Picoeconomics: The strategic interaction of successive motivational states within the person. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Ainsworth, M. D. S., &Bowlby, J. (1991). An ethological approach to personality development.American Psychologist,46, 333–341.
Becker, G. S. (1976).The economic approach to human behavior. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Becker, G. S., Grossman, M., &Murphy, K. M. (1992). Rational addiction and the effect of price on consumption. In G. Loewenstein & J. Elster (Eds.),Choice over time (pp. 361–370). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Becker, G. S., &Murphy, K. M. (1990). A theory of rational addiction.Journal of Political Economy,96, 675–700.
Chaloupka, F. J. (1991). Rational addictive behavior and cigarette smoking.Journal of Political Economy,99, 722–742.
Chung, S. H., &Herrnstein, R. J. (1967). Choice and delay of reinforcement.Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior,10, 67–74.
Cook, P. J., &Tauchen, G. (1980). The effect of liquor taxes on heavy drinking.Bell Journal of Economics,13, 379–390.
DeGrandpre, R. J., &Bickel, W. K. (1996). Drug dependence as consumer demand. In L. Green & J. H. Kagel (Eds.),Advances in behavioral economics: Vol. 3. Substance use and abuse (pp. 1–36). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Fisher, E. B., Jr. (1996). A behavioral-economic perspective on the influence of social support on cigarette smoking. In L. Green & J. H. Kagel (Eds.),Advances in behavioral economics: Vol. 3. Substance use and abuse (pp. 207–236). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Green, L., Fry, A. F., &Myerson, J. (1994). Discounting of delayed rewards: A life span comparison.Psychological Science,5, 33–36.
Green, L., &Kagel, J. H. (Eds.) (1996).Advances in behavioral economics: Vol. 3. Substance use and abuse. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Green, L., &Rachlin, H. (1991). Economic substitutability of electrical brain stimulation, food and water.Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior,55, 133–144.
Herrnstein, R. J. (1997).The matching law. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Herrnstein, R. J., &Prelec, D. (1992). A theory of addiction. In G. Loewenstein & J. Elster (Eds.),Choice over time (pp. 331–360). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Herrnstein, R. J., &Vaughan, W., Jr. (1980). Melioration and behavioral allocation. In J. E. R. Staddon (Ed.),Limits to action: The allocation of individual behavior (pp. 143–176). New York: Academic Press.
Heyman, G. M. (1996a). Elasticity of demand for alcohol in humans and rats. In L. Green & J. H. Kagel (Eds.),Advances in behavioral economics: Vol. 3. Substance use and abuse (pp. 107–132). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Heyman, G. M. (1996b). Resolving the contradictions of addiction.Behavioral & Brain Sciences,19, 561–610.
Heyman, G. M., &Tanz, L. (1995). How to teach a pigeon to maximize overall reinforcement rate.Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior,64, 277–298.
McMorrow, M. J., &Foxx, R. M. (1983). Nicotine’s role in smoking: An analysis of nicotine regulation.Psychological Bulletin,93, 302–327.
Mischel, W. (1966). Theory and research on the antecedents of self-imposed delay of reward. In B. A. Maher (Ed.),Progress in experimental personality research (Vol. 3, pp. 85–132). New York: Academic Press.
Mobilia, P. (1990).An economic analysis of addictive behavior: The case of gambling. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, City University of New York.
Nisbet, C. T., &Vakil, F. (1972). Some estimates of price and expenditure elasticities of demand for marijuana among U.C.L.A. students.Review of Economics & Statistics,54, 473–475.
Premack, D. (1965). Reinforcement theory. In D. Levine (Ed.),Nebraska Symposium on Motivation: 1965 (pp. 123–179). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Rachlin, H. (1978). A molar theory of reinforcement schedules.Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior,30, 345–360.
Rachlin, H. (1992). Teleological behaviorism.American Psychologist,47, 1371–1382.
Rachlin, H. (1994).Behavior and mind: The roots of modern psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.
Rachlin, H. (1995). Self-control: Beyond commitment.Behavioral & Brain Sciences,18, 109–159.
Rachlin, H., Battalio, R., Kagel, J., &Green, L. (1981). Maximization in behavioral psychology.Behavioral & Brain Sciences,4, 371–419.
Rachlin, H., &Burkhard, B. (1978). The temporal triangle: Response substitution in instrumental conditioning.Psychological Review,85, 22–48.
Raineri, A., &Rachlin, H. (1993). The effect of temporal constraints on the value of money and other commodities.Journal of Behavioral Decision Making,6, 77–94.
Samuelson, P. A. (1937). A note on measurement of utility.Review of Economic Studies,4, 155–161.
Schuster, C. R.,Silverman, K.,Harrell, S.,Brooner, R.,Cone, E., &Preston, K. (1995).ASP as a predictor of treatment outcome in a contingency management program for cocaine abusers. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Silverman, L. P., &Spruill, N. L. (1977). Urban crime and the price of heroin.Journal of Urban Economics,4, 80–103.
Stigler, G., &Becker, G. (1977). De gustibus non est disputandum.American Economic Review,67, 76–90.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1988).The health consequences of smoking: Nicotine addiction. A report of the Surgeon General (DHHS Publication No. 89-8411). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Vuchinich, R. E., &Tucker, J. (1996a). Alcohol relapse, life events, and behavioral theories of choice: A prospective analysis.Experimental & Clinical Psychopharmacology,4, 19–28.
Vuchinich, R. E., &Tucker, J. (1996b). The molar context of alcohol abuse. In L. Green & J. H. Kagel (Eds.),Advances in behavioral economics: Vol. 3. Substance use and abuse (pp. 133–162). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Young, T. (1983). The demand for cigarettes: Alternative specifications of Fujii’s model.Applied Economics,15, 203–211.
The preparation of this manuscript was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
About this article
Cite this article
Rachlin, H. Four teleological theories of addiction. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 4, 462–473 (1997). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03214335
- Relative Price
- Price Sensitization
- Addictive Substance
- Real Price
- Discount Function