Discuss two or more biological explanations of phobic disorders (8 + 16 marks)

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Discuss two or more biological explanations of phobic disorders (8 marks + 16 marks)
The biological approach explains phobic disorders in terms of genetics by using family and twin studies. It
proposes that having a family member with a phobic disorder increases the risk that an individual develops a
similar disorder. Fyer et al. supports this as they found probands had three times as many relatives who also
experienced phobias compared to normal controls. Relatives usually have the same disorder as the proband as
Ost found that 64% of blood phobics had at least one relative with the same disorder. Solyom et al. also found
that 45% of phobic patients had at least one relative with the disorder compared to 17% of normal controls
which therefore supports a genetic influence for phobic disorders. Although, some phobias have a greater
genetic component than others as Kendler et al. estimated a 67% heritability rate for agoraphobia, 59% for
blood/injury, 51% for social phobias and 47% for animal phobias. The inconsistency between different phobias
shows that genetics cannot be the main cause of phobias, there must be other factors involved such as the
environment. For example, Brown et al. found that phobic disorders were more common among
African-American than white American participants, even when socioeconomic factors were controlled. This
therefore shows that environmental and social factors are important. The diathesis-stress model could explain
this as it is likely that genetic factors predispose an individual to develop phobias, but experience plays a role in
triggering such responses.
Twin studies can be used to research the role of genetics in phobias of which Torgersen compared MZ and
same-sex DZ twin pairs where one twin had an anxiety disorder with panic attacks. Such disorders were five
times more frequent in MZ twin pairs showing support for a genetic influence as MZ twins share 100% of their
genes. Although, greater similarity could be due to the fact MZ twins are generally treated more similarly than
DZ twins. However, Torgersen actually only found 31% concordance for MZ twins in terms of anxiety disorders
and almost no concordance for DZ which wouldn't show strong support for a genetic basis in phobias. Also, these
studies fail to control for shared experiences which may affect the reliability of the results. MZ twins are likely to
share more similar experiences than DZ twins because they are likely to have more similar interests even when
reared apart.
It also may be that people inherit an oversensitive fear response which the adrenogenic theory explains by high
levels of arousal in the ANS creating increased amounts of adrenaline therefore leading to an oversensitive fear
response. Research found children with signs of behavioural inhibition at birth were found later to have higher
ANS activity and develop significantly more anxiety disorders therefore supporting the adrenogenic theory.
Further support is shown as successful drug therapies for phobics include drugs that block activity of the
adrenergic system, reducing anxiety.
Another biological explanation explains phobias in terms of the evolutionary approach. The preparedness theory
proposes the assumption that an innate readiness to learn about dangerous situations is more flexible than
inheriting rigid behavioural responses to specific situations. Seligman (1970) argued that animals, including
humans, are biologically prepared to rapidly learn an association between particular (i.e. potentially
life-threatening) stimuli and fear, and once learned this association is difficult to distinguish. McNally reviewed
lab studies where participants were conditioned to fear prepared and unprepared stimuli. The participants
showed no resistance to extinction of fear responses conditioned by `prepared' stimuli, but evidence for rapid
acquisition was unclear, showing mixed research support for the preparedness theory. This experiment led
Davey (1995) to propose a simpler explanation that fears are based on expectancy bias which is the expectation
that fear-relevant stimuli will produce negative consequences in the future. There is no need to invoke past
evolutionary history. This therefore explains the acquisition of `modern' phobias.
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