Miller, R. R., Polack, C. W. 2018. Sources of maladaptive behavior in ‘normal’ organisms. Behavioural Processes 154, 4-12.

A basic assumption of most researchers is that behavior is generally functional, and indeed, in most instances the function is obvious. But in a number of cases, some behaviors of neurophysiologically ‘normal’ organisms appear to be maladaptive. Considerable research has been conducted to understand the basis of such behavior as well as how the frequency of such behavior can be reduced. Here we provide a brief panoramic review of the major sources of maladaptive behavior in neurophysiologically ‘normal’ organisms: a) altered environmental contingencies relative to those faced by ancestral generations in their environment of evolutionary adaptation, b) altered environmental contingencies within the lifespan of the animal, c) linked behaviors in which the dysfunctional behavior is a linked companion of a more valuable beneficial trait, and d) the labeling of some behaviors as ‘maladaptive’ when more careful examination finds that they provide net benefit. Most of our attention is on the consequences of altered contingencies across and within a generation, with altered contingencies within a generation constituting a form of associative interference. The central issue in these two cases can be framed in terms of insufficient or excessive transfer of training resulting in maladaptive behavior. We discuss the functional basis of successful and unsuccessful near transfer (i.e., stimulus and response generalization) and far transfer (including rule learning and abstraction).

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