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Opponent Process Theory

Solomon and Corbitt

What Is It

Richard Solomon (1980) developed a theory of motivation and emotion that recognizes emotions as pairs of opposites (i.e. fear/relief, pleasure/pain) States that when one emotion is experienced, the other is suppressed

Example: You are frightened by a mean dog. If the dog doesnt move toward you, then the fear might decrease, and relief would increase. If the dog goes away, relief might completely replace fear.

Standard Pattern of Affective Dynamics

A) the peak of the primary hedonic process or state, precipitated by stimulus onset B) a period of affective or hedonic adaptation during which the intensity of the hedonic state declines C) peak of affective after-reaction, quickly follows stimulus termination and whose quality is very different from the primary hedonic state D) afterstate decays and disappears

Solomon et. al (1966, 1969)

Dog in Pavlov harness is stimulated by numerous 10-second shocks and then released
Stage A: autonomic nervous system takes over; dog is terrified, pupils dilate, ears pulled back, tail between legs, uncontrollable urination and defacation Stage B: dog is released from shocking device; moves hesitantly around room; appears stealthy * Stage B replaces Stage A

Solomon & Corbitt (1974)

Examined fear and relief of skydivers before and after their jumps. Beginners experience extreme fear as they jump, which is replaced by great relief when they land. With repeated jumps, the fear decreases and the post-jump pleasure increases. This process may explain a variety of thrill-seeking behaviors. Stage A (fear) decreases with more jumps Stage B (relief/thrill) increases with more jumps


Thrill seeking behaviors Addiction and tolerance

Stage A euphoric rush Stage B decrease in euphoria, coming down from a high Stage A after repeated exposures, A becomes normal, there is no longer a rush, drug is needed for normalcy Stage B more physiologically disturbing and longer-lasting; abstinence agony


All addiction have in common:

The B state lasts a long time The B state is intensely aversive The elicitation of State A or A is effective in causing immediate removal of State B or B The user learns to employ the drug which elicits States A and A in order to get rid of state B or B


Earleywine, M. (2005). Mind-Altering Drugs: The Science of Subjective Experience United States of America: Oxford University Press. Solomon, R. L. & Corbitt, J. D. (December 1978). An Opponent Process Theory of Motivation. The American Economic Review, 68, 12-24.