Negative coverant probability: an analogue study

John J. Horan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Homme (1965) has suggested that subjects who reinforce themselves for emitting coverants (covert operants) which are incompatible with certain personal problems (e.g., obesity, smoking, depression) will consequently modify their maladaptive behavior. Thus if one wanted to lose weight or stop smoking he might attempt to increase the frequency of specific thoughts, images, reflections, etc. which interfere with the troublesome target response. Incompatible coverants are of two types. Negative coverants deal with the aversive consequences of a given behavior disorder; positive coverants focus on the desirable features of the disorder's resolution. With regard to the problem of obesity, examples might include images of an obesity related coronary attack vs. greatly increased sexual prowess when weight is lost. Apart from the difficulties involved with the technology of coverant acceleration (cf. Danaher, 1974; Horan, et al., 1974: Horan and Johnson, 1971; Mahoney, 1970). Homme's paradigm rests on the a priori assumption that negative coverants designated as incompatible are lowly probable in the first place. It might be argued in opposition, for example, that smokers are constantly reminded of the dangers of their act and that overeaters are ever presently aware of the hazards of their condition, yet the majority of individuals afflicted by either disorder still persist in their self-defeating behavior. If such is true, then Homme's paradigm, in fact, calls for a relatively trivial increase in an already frequently occurring phenomenon. Thus. the clinical utility ofcoverant control. if any. must be traced to factors other than those which Homme has postulated. On the other hand. if Homme is correct in assuming that negative coverants are lowly probable, then individuals affected by a given behavior disorder should be relatively 'unwilling' to emit them without some sort of reinforcement. For example, in spite of the well known aversive consequences of smoking and overeating. smokers will simply avoid thinking about the possibility of lung cancer, and overeaters will rarely ever entertain an image of their bodies. Unfortunately no direct assessment of coverant probability can be obtained except through self report, which is inherently vulnerable to questions of validity. However, since the operant of looking at a reflected object in a mirror is analogous to the coverant of imagining the objects in one's mind, a test of Homme's negative coverant probability assumption can easily be made. In comparison to properly proportioned individuals, overweight people should be relatively intolerant of a reflected image of their bodies. A measure of coverant probability can be had by simply noting the time spent in naive self-observation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-266
Number of pages2
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1974
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Negative coverant probability: an analogue study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this