Ed Skarnulis Interviews Rosemary and Gunnar Dybwad

Comments on Aversive Conditioning

Produced in 1987 (Run time 5:03)

Ed Skarnulis: There has been a development in the United States of late, in the past decade or so, called aversive consequences, and in your own state of Massachusetts, there's a group called the Behavior Research Institute that have been very much involved in advocating for the use of aversive consequences.

Could you just take a few minutes and describe for us a little bit about what those are and what your thoughts are on that subject?

Dr. Gunnar Dybwad: Well, I'm afraid that's my subject and I'm very much involved with this movement. By the way, the organization is located in Rhode Island...

Ed Skarnulis: Oh, Rhode Island.

Dr. Gunnar Dybwad: ...but they do have, maintained homes in Massachusetts. Aversive conditioning is hard to discuss because you have to identify what you mean. Actually, of course, if a child is doing something and you say very sharply, "No!" or you hold her hands, you see, that is aversive, you see.

But that isn't what is happening, because when you talk about cattle prods to give people electric shock or...take a squirter and squirt lemon juice or other noxious substances into their face or up their nostrils and so on, then you're dealing with a totally different situation because this is no longer in the natural human thing.

But then you then escalate it and move into what happened at the Behavior Research Institute – and by the way, to the tune of $85,000 per year per person they are paid by the taxpayers of Massachusetts – where they would have a regime of pinching people as often as 200 times a day, of hitting them and, by the way, on the bare buttocks, adolescent and young adult people, or shackle them hands and feet. And this is now from court records.

And by the way, interestingly, the agency furnished this information. It's not seen generally. It's hard to find out what goes on in institution, but they make a record of the law.

So they shackled somebody hand and foot, put a mask over his face with noise coming in, so-called white noise, you see, loud noise, and then squirt noxious substances up their nostrils and pour cold water over them, which is the ABS station. And this is defended by people who consider themselves reputable psychologists. And, of course, that is totally different from the, "No!" or the holding hand of a child who tries to grab somebody's food and so on.

Now many parents don't think they have to shout "No" don't think they have to physically interfere, but when this becomes a method and then escalates, you see. And then you put electric shock treatments in the hands of untrained people.

Because the vicious thing about this is, the psychologist prescribes, but he ain't there when this goes on, you see. So then untrained people begin to, may I say, medicate themselves, you see. And I just on the basis of my experience and here prison experience is very helpful, this sort of thing would never be tolerated in prisons.

Ed Skarnulis: The point that is made with this last question, and it seems to be a point that the two of you have repeatedly made...

Dr. Gunnar Dybwad: Yeah.

Ed Skarnulis: ...is that there have been advances, we've come a long way, and yet there still remains a need for vigilance on the part of the parents...

Dr. Gunnar Dybwad: Um-hmm.

Ed Skarnulis: ...for recognition that to assure quality in the services that have been developed requires that we don't simply sit back on our laurels.

Dr. Gunnar Dybwad: And for good, simple, common sense...

Ed Skarnulis: And good, simple, common sense.

Dr. Gunnar Dybwad: ...which will tell you what is permissible and what is not.

Dr. Rosemary Dybwad: But you have to give me one little word.

Ed Skarnulis: All right.

Dr. Rosemary Dybwad: One small word from Denmark in the report that they wrote to me recently. The best technical aid is another human being.

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