Learning Theory Key Question


Key Question

Should airline companies/airports offer treatment programmes to passengers with a fear of flying?

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About the Issue

  • Fear of flying is a distinct phobia. However, it can be associated with other phobias and axnxiety disorders (e.g fear of heights (acrophobia), claustrophobia and fear of noises).
  • The fear of flying is mostly explained as the fear of crashing (most common) or not being in control, fear of having a panic attack or fear of hijacking.
  • Aerophobia recieves the most attention as it is often unaviodable. 
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Impacts on Society

  • 1 in 6 have a fear of flying.
  • Following 9/11 terror attack, passenger miles on the main US airlines fell between 12 and 20% and road use increased. It is estimated that an extra 1600 Americans died in car accidents the year after the attacks. Believed to be due to people opting to drive rather than fly - this was a behavioural change induced by fear of flying.
  • People avoiding flying for work or leisure can have a massive impact on economic, social and emotional factors.
  • In 2011, Manchester airport introduced a psychologist offering free therapy sessions.
  • Odds of dying in air travel accident = 1 in 20,000
  • Odds of dying in an auto accident = 1 in 100
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  • Classical Conditioning can be used to 'unlearn' the fear of flying through substituting fear with a relaxation response. This is reciprocal inhibition. Participants are taught relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation to use when faced with the phobic object or situation. In this case, the techniques would be used when on a plane. 
  • Social Learning Theory suggests that it is possible to learn a fear without direct experience. For example, people may learn a fear of flying through reading a news article or watching a film about a plane crash. It suggests that group treatment may be better at increasing efficacy than indiviadual treatment as seeing someone else overcome their fear might encourage someone else to. This might give an airline a higher success rate.
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  • Systematic desensitisation is another treatment for the fear of flying. The participant forms a list of phobic situations, starting with, for example, looking at a picture of a plane and incresing to being on a plane with the engines on.
  • Capafons used systematic desensitisation to help particiapants overcome a fear of flying. He had a 90% success rate, therefore concluding that this is an effective treatment for fear of flying. However, he found fear symptoms were reduced when watching a videa and not on an actual plane. This means we don't know how effective the treatment would have been if the particiapnts actually had to go on a flight. 
  • In conclusion, airlines are in a better position to use in vivo treatments, which may be more effective, as they have access to planes that most therapists wouldn't have. 
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