Atypical Behaviour Theories

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Core Theory: Behaviourist Theory

Behaviours are learnt - can be related to a previous experience of the phobia

Classical conditioning - Learning through association


Operant Conditioning - Learning through reward/consquences

The phobia will become extinguished if the association does not continue


  • The behaviourists ignore the thinking behind behaviour
  • They assume you need a direct experience with the feared object or situation
  • Some people have phobias of things that they have never had an experience of
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Alternative Theory: Evolutionary Theory

Humans and animals are governed by nature

It is natural for humans to want to survive and pass on their genes

The fear would be instinctive

We are born with biological readiness towards threats

More people have a phobia of something that is less like us and is a greater threat

Passed down from our ancestors

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Core Study: Watson and Rayner 1920

Shows ideas of how phobias can be learnt through classical conditioning

Little Albert - tested reactions towards objects at 9 months old

The only stimuli that was feared was a hammer striking a steel bar

Little Albert liked playing with a white rat and so they conditioned him with this phobia

It was repeated 7 times over 2 weeks

The white rat frightened Little Albert and the phobia had been conditioned

He also had a phobia of everything else that was white


  • The phobia was conditioned under artificial conditions and lacks ecological validity
  • Only one child was conditioned and this cannot be generalised
  • This study is highly unethical
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Application of Research: Behaviour Therapy


Patients are immersed in their fear

Phobia is faced full on

Creates new associations

Systematic Desensitisation:

Associations are made step by step and are gradual

Implosion Therapy:

Patients imagine the situation of the phobia rather than experience it face on

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