Phobias Explanations and Treatments



Biological treatment - Ohman

Aim: to see if phobias of snakes is conditioned easier than phobias of houses/faces, indicating biological preparedness to develop phobias of certain objects

Method: Lab experiment - participants linked to machine presenting pictures and then shocked after some of them - measured by skin conductance

Sample: 64 volunteers - aged 20-30

Procedure: wired to machine - given shock at level they said was uncomfortable but not painful - pictures shown for 8 secs and if shock was going to be given it was be done as picture was shown - there were 3 different types of pictures: snakes, houses or faces - order was randomised - half participants received shock after snakes, quarter after houses and quarter after faces

Findings: participants shocked after they were shown pictures of:
- snakes had 0.062 conductance to snakes and 0.048 conductance to houses/faces
- houses/faces had 0.030 conductance to snakes and 0.037 conductance to houses/faces.
The higher the conductance the more they were sweating - physiological response to fear.

Conclusion: Participants were more likely to show fear reactions to snakes - shows a biological preparedness to develop phobias to objects that cause danger, e.g. snakes

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Cognitive Explanation - Tormarken

Cognitive Biases - biased attention, biased interpretations and biased memory.

Biased attention - focusing on only the feared object in a room - paying more attention to a tiny spider in the room compared to anything else.
Biased interpretations - tendency to interpret an object in a threatening way - seeing a spider as a threat
Biased memory - tendency to only remember the negative information - picnic with the family may be remembered negatively due to spider in the car on way home

Aim: to find evidence for cognitive biases in specific phobias

Procedure: presented individuals who has either low fear or high fear of snakes or spiders with a series of fear-relevant or fear-irrelevant slides - after the slide was shown either there was a tone, electric shock or nothing

Results: the phobic patients greatly overestimated the number of times the fear-related slides were followed by a shock - this is known as an illusory correlation as the phobics perceived a relationship between the phobic object and the shock where none existed hence reflecting a cognitive bias

Conclusion: phobic participants demonstrated biased attention, biased interpretation and biased memories clearly showing the role of cognitive bias in specific phobias.

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Cognitive Treatment - Ellis's ABC Therapy

Cognitive explanation for phobias is that those individuals who have phobias have cognitive biases then the treatment has to treat those cognitive biases. Ellis's rational emotive therapy can be used to help those suffering with anxiety and specifically phobias.

Ellis’ ABC model

A: activating agent (for example a spider)

B: belief (which can be rational) spider is harmless (or irrational) spider is a threat

C: consequence (which can be healthy) ignore spider (or unhealthy) anxiety

This can help treat phobias by making phobic patients irrational thoughts rational leading them treat their fear to a specific object.

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