Assignment 3.2: Case Study

** Please note:  This blog post was written in whole or in part as an assignment for a class that I was taking.  If you decide to use some of my work in your own assignments, please give credit where credit is due and cite your source!  Thanks :) **

In this assignment we were given a brief case study and asked to review and analyze it.  The case study is as follows:

Kendra has recently left an abusive relationship. She and her son live with her mother. Her ex-husband drank heavily and would unexpectedly appear at unusual hours at her home. She claims that he was physically abusive twice in their six-year marriage, but there are reports that she was hospitalized with injuries consistent with abuse on at least eight occasions. She reports feeling terror when she hears the motor of a specific type of motorcycle – the kind her ex-husband rode.

Kendra’s fifteen-year-old son, Austin, reports that Kendra was abused daily by her husband. He claims to have found her unconscious on the floor of the kitchen, and that she had been cooking a meal. He reports strong taste and smell aversion to meatloaf, the dinner that had been in the oven at that time. He also demonstrates aggression when people around him drink or take drugs. At a party, he physically assaulted a boy who had been drinking heavily and who was “putting moves” on one of Austin’s friends.

Specific questions to consider were:

  • How have Kendra and Austin been conditioned? What/who is the source of the conditioning?
  • What is the source of Austin’s smell aversion?
  • How do Kendra’s memories differ from Austin’s? Why?

In this case study, there are many different factors leading to the conditioning of Kendra and her son.  Classical conditioning is the most appropriate assessment.  As stated in our textbook chapter, classical conditioning is “a form of associative learning that enables organisms to anticipate events” (Rathus, ch 6)  This is evident in Kendra’s feeling terror at the sound of a specific type of motorcycle.  She is anticipating her ex-husband’s arrival and the surety of his abusive behavior, as a learned event formed through the relationship.  The sound of the motorcycle is a conditioned stimulus and her terror is a conditioned response.

Kendra’s son, Austin, is exhibiting an example of taste aversion, another type of conditioning.  The smell and taste of meatloaf is a conditioned stimulus, brought about because the meatloaf was what was cooking when the traumatic event, finding his mother unconscious on the floor after being abused, occurred.  The fact that Austin becomes aggressive when seeing others drink or take drugs is partly due to modeling.  Although part of his aggression is caused by fear and distaste for his father’s actions when under the influence, he observed that a possible response is violence.  The fact that this is specifically associated with people drinking and doing drugs is another type of aversion, although not a taste aversion.

The most likely reason for Kendra and Austin’s memories to be so different in regards to the abuse is that Kendra is repressing the memories.  She remembers being abused infrequently, whereas Austin remembers her being abused on a daily basis.  As with the case studies mentioned in the chapter about veterans forgetting traumatic battlefield experiences, Kendra is forgetting much of the abuse, keeping it repressed, possibly due to a form of posttraumatic stress disorder.  Her terror at hearing the motorcycle indicates that the memories are still there, but repressed.

Rathus, Spencer A. Psych. Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009.


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