Biological explanations for phobic disorders

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Outline and evaluate the biological model of phobic disorders (24)
The biological model of phobic disorders suggests that all behaviour has a biological basis. It
proposes that genes predispose people to display fear responses when they encounter certain
stimuli. There are different theories within the biological approach providing explanations for the
occurrence of phobias. One of which is the evolutionary theory. Evidence to support the evolutionary
theory shows that a lot of phobias have been around for a long time which supports the view that
they have an evolutionary background. The evolutionary theory consists of many parts including
evolutionary preparedness which was proposed by Seligman in 1971.
According to the evolutionary preparedness theory human beings are biologically prepared
to learn an association between life threatening stimuli and a "flight" response very rapidly. This
indicates the phobias that humans acquire are those that aid survival; this explains why some people
have a fear of spiders since in the evolutionary era of adaptation it would have been necessary to
stay away from siders since they may have venomous bites. This fear of harmful animals/situations
provides an evolutionary advantage; survival, individuals with this phobia in the evolutionary era of
adaptation lived and passed on their genes.
Research supporting this theory has shown that people rate animals that move unpredictably
as fearful. This is further supported by Ohman et al who found that it took longer to condition people
to fear flowers and mushrooms than it did for them to fear snakes and spiders. Despite the fact the
findings of this study supports the biological model the study lacks ecological validity since in real life
situations are not acquired through electric shocks. This also leads us to question the ethicality of the
research since the participants were given small electric shocks which could have caused them
discomfort and had the potential to harm them.
Also evolutionary explanations for phobias aren't applicable to many modern day bizarre
phobias such as the fear of buttons or mirrors, these phobias are better explained as learned
behaviour. This indicates that the evolutionary theory is a simplistic explanation since it doesn't
account for psychological or environmental factors that can contribute in the development of
phobias. Therefore indicating that the evolutionary theory is reductionist.
Another biological theory that can explain the occurrence of phobias is genetics. This theory
can explain why some people inherit phobias and others do not. This is an aspect that the
evolutionary preparedness theory doesn't seem to regard since not everyone has a fear of spiders
indicating that phobias aren't solely centred around evolution. If they were everyone would have
phobias of spiders and snakes etc., because individuals without these phobias according to the
theory of evolution would not have survived and passed on their genes.
Genetics can also explain why phobias seem to run in families, research using gene mapping
has shown that there are higher concordance rates for phobias with first degree relatives as
opposed to the general population. This highlights the fact that there are some similar genes
between individuals that code for certain phobias.
Twin studies have shown support for the genetic explanation. Shields and Slater (1969)
showed that the concordance rates for MZ twins were higher than DZ twins for phobias. They used
gene mapping tests on 45 pairs of twins. Despite the fact that the study provides support for the
genetics theory the sample size is very small indicating that the results are not valid because of the

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Also it is hard to clearly determine whether the genes cause the phobia or
whether they are present due to mutations caused by the phobia, in most studies the conclusions are
based on correlational results and therefore causation cannot be established.
It has been argued that phobias do not run in families due to genetics; they are acquired
through similar environmental experiences and through vicarious reinforcement.…read more

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