The Cause of Phobias

The Cause of Phobias
Thesis: We are not born with phobias ? a phobia is learnt because it has become associated with an object or an experience that is unpleasant. According to the behaviourist, a phobia has to be learnt. This can happen in one of two ways: classical or operant conditioning. Classical conditioning is where an object/experience becomes associated with something unpleasant or causes pain/fear. J Watson and R Rayner tested this in a controversial experiment in 1920, in the case of little Albert. The stimulus may be all kinds of things, an object, a person or a sound. By itself it has no effect but once it has become associated with the ucs (unconditional stimulus) and it causes a response, as the white rat did with little Albert; it is called the conditional stimulus (CS) because the person has become conditioned to it and a conditional response occurs (CR).
If this response then occurs with other similar objects, then the conditioning has become generalised. Operant conditioning is where we learn from the consequences of our actions. If we do something that brings a pleasant result then we are more likely to repeat that action. This is reinforcement. There are two kinds of reinforcement ? positive and negative. Positive reinforcement is when something we don?t like occurs and we are comforted. E.g. a parent comforts a frightened child. If the level of comfort begins to drop then the child will make more fuss to get the comfort. The parent reinforces the behaviour by offering the comfort/attention demanded by the child. Negative reinforcement is when something we don?t like is avoided therefore the unpleasant consequence/situation does not occur. E.g. a child hates swimming and finds the whole experience of going to the pool unpleasant. By not going to the pool the unpleasant experience is avoided, this is negative reinforcement. Some areas where classical conditioning could be criticised are the ethics involved with the experiments. The person who is to be conditioned would experience an enormous amount of upset and discomfort. It is said that a phobia can be unlearned; this process is called extinction. I believe that for extinction to take place it would be a longer and be even more traumatic process for the participant than the original conditioning. This may well be the reason why little Albert was removed from the experiment before extinction took place. In operant conditioning, no consideration is given to the possibility of there being a valid reason for the person to be upset by a certain stimulus or place. If the problem was addressed then perhaps phobia development could be avoided and the experience or object could become bearable or perhaps even enjoyable. Anti-Thesis: A phobia develops after we have had a bad experience, perhaps as a child, which we have repressed. Or what if we have watched the fear that a stimulus triggers in someone else ? will this cause a fear in us? Or perhaps some of us are indeed born with a phobia that has evolved through the ages? E.g. a child is out with an older sibling being taken for a walk in their pushchair ? the pushchair gets stuck in the mud and the child just cannot shift it alone. The older child runs home to get help but the youngster in the pushchair is left frightened and alone. Help arrives and the incident is forgotten. Years later, the person develops this ?irrational? fear of being abandoned and deserted ? is this because the experience as a young child was repressed? E.g. we observe a tiny mouse which causes such a screaming reaction and someone jumps on to a chair ? everyone comes running to see what is happening. A good way to get attention ? let?s try it out ?imitate? ? it works ? it has been reinforced. E.g. why are so many people afraid of heights, snakes, spiders, water etc? Surely not all these people have had a bad experience or watched someone else?s reactions to these things? What if over time these fears/phobias have evolved from our ancestors? Synthesis. The behaviourist explanation for phobia development is a useful explanation as experiments can be carried out on set criteria and the reactions measured. Experiments can be repeated so the results can be cross-referenced but are these experiments really ethical if they cause so much distress to the participant and are the participants aware of how much distress will be caused and what the long-term effects of the experiments may be? What can the information obtained from these experiments prove and are they really of any use and value in everyday life? The positive and negative reinforcement from the operant conditioning have similarities to slt and I believe that, in particular, the operant conditioning is common sense. If we don?t like the consequences of a certain action, then of course we would not wish to repeat the action; if the consequences are good, then we would want to repeat it. I believe in some circumstances that the psychoanalytic theory could be the answer, but I also think some things could well be a born wariness. This may be more relevant in countries where extremely dangerous or poisonous animals are prevalent. With this in mind I believe that all the explanations given could have a bearing on, or be the cause of, phobias. In some cases perhaps even a combination of theories may be the root cause of phobias.

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