Classical Conditioning

·         Pavlov was studying eating in dogs by measuring their saliva.  He noticed that some of the dogs started to salivate (a response) before their food arrived.  He thought this was because they could hear the footsteps (a stimulus) of the person carrying the food.

·      Pavlov tested his idea using a dog that had a tube through its cheek to measure its saliva.  First he rang a bell – it didn’t salivate.  Then he rang the bell and gave the dog some food.  This was the conditioning process which, after being repeated many times leads to the dog salivating at the sound of the bell alone.

·     The dog had learned to associate the bell and the food – it had become conditioned to salivate to the bell. This process has become known as classical or Pavlovian conditioning.

·     Learning happens in this way because an association forms between the neutral stimulus (NS) and the unconditioned stimulus (UCS). 

·         It usually takes many pairings or trials.  During these pairings the neutral stimulus (NS) becomes a conditioned stimulus (CS) which can cause a conditioned response (CR).

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Phobia Stimulus

  • With regard to phobias if a real fear is triggered by something when a harmless stimulus is present, an association may be made between the two things.  This can cause a phobia.
  • Watson and Raynor (1920) conditioned Little Albert to be phobic of a white rat.  Each time a white rat was shown to Albert, a loud noise was made with a steal bar behind him.  The noise frightened him and he associated his fear with the rat.
  • Albert’s fear generalisaed to other white, fluffy things such as cotton wool and a Father Christmas mask.
  • Conditioned responses often take many trials to learn but if the conditioned stimulus is repeated many times without the unconditioned stimulus, the conditioned response is lost.  This is called extinction.
  • However, extinction doesn’t happen very easily.  Once a phobia has been learned, it is very hard to lose. e.g. if a child gets bitten by a dog, they might become afraid of dogs.  Even though dogs don’t often bite and the child is never bitten again, it may be hard to overcome the fear. 
  • Phobias are generally learnt from one event - this is called 'one-trail learning'.
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  •  According to the theory of evolution, if two animals were living in a forest and encountered a forest fire, the one who ran away would be more likely to survive.  This shows some behaviors are adaptive and being fearful can be useful.
  •  In this example, fear makes sense because fires are deadly.  Sometimes we have irrational fears of objects or situations that are not dangerous.
  • We learn links between some things more easily than others, as evolution has ‘prepared’ us to learn about things that are threatening.
  •  Many phobias are not random – people are afraid of thunder because being struck by lightning was a real risk for early humans. 
  • This explains why some phobias are more common than others. e.g. we are more likely to be scared of snakes (could have been a predator) than clothes.
    • One-trial learning – learning to be afraid of something dangerous immediately will keep you alive.


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Nature vs Nurture Phobias

 Evidence FOR Nature in Phobias

  • Preparedness – there is a genetic influence on the kinds of things we learn to fear.  Bennett-Levy and Marteau showed that more people are afraid of animals with certain characteristics.
  • Slater and Shield (1969) found that identical twins were more similar in their phobias than non-identical twins.

Evidence AGAINST Nature in Phobias

  • Mineka et al (1984) found that monkeys learn fears through social learning.  As monkeys and people are very similar, it is likely that we can learn fears too.
  • Watson and Raynor (1920) used classical conditioning to make Little Albert frightened of a white rat.  This shows the environment can produce phobias.  
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Experiments with animals

  • When experimenting with animals it is important to consider the following ethical issues: minimising the amount of pain and fear caused, avoiding social isolation, using the smallest number of animals possible and using a species that will suffer the least.
  • When absolutely essential, only cause minimum pain and fear possible.
  • Making social animals (dogs, rate, monkeys) be on their own may cause them distress, so time kept alone should be kept to a minimum
  •  Different species find different things distressing. e.g. A social animal will find social isolation more distressing than an animal that lives alone.


  • Animals and Humans are similar. 
  • Can use animals for experiments involving deprivation as humans are not likely to volunteer


  • Although humans and animals are similar, there are important differences, e.g. humans have bigger brains and are more complex.
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Treatment of Phobias

  • There are a number of possible therapies for treating phobias: flooding and systematic desensitisation.
  • Flooding – is an extreme therapy based on classical conditioning.
  •  It involves confronting your fear directly, as being near the thing you are scared of can help you overcome it.
  • It causes anxiety to begin with, and the participant eventually starts to calm down. Participants learn to associate their fear or phobia with this feeling of relaxation.
  •  It has been criticised for not being very ethical.
  • It is also not always effective, as far as studies have shown
  • Systematic desensitisation is similar to flooding, but less stressful.
  • Participant is still exposed to their fear, but it is done in a more gradual way.
  • E.g. If someone is scared of spiders, they might first be exposed to a picture of a spider, then a video, then a toy spider, then a real spider (small), then a tarantula.
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Ethics of Treatment of Phobias

  • Flooding is the most traumatic of therapies used to treat phobias because patients are forcibly exposed to their fears. 
  • They are not allowed to withdraw from the situation because this could make their phobia worse in the long run.
  • Systematic desensitisation is less extreme than flooding because the patient has more control over when they move on to the next level. 
  • They decide if they are relaxed enough to be confronted with a more stressful situation, unlike flooding, where they cannot (it would be harmful to) withdraw at all.
  • Both flooding and systematic desensitization are therapies that produce distress. 
  • Flooding creates an enormous amount of distress.
  • We must also remember that patients are aware of the therapy they are undertaking, the therapies are only used for the most serious of phobias and the patients have to be clearly distressed or unable to carry on with normal activities to access these therapies.
  • Because of the ethical issues of distress and right to withdraw, systematic desensitisation is much more popular therapy than flooding, which is rarely used today.
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Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists work with people who have mental health problems e.g. anxiety, depression, behavioural problems.They work with people who are stressed and distressed. They also help people with mood disorders, fears, phobias, problems in coping with a disability.

• They often work in a team and focus on one client. There might be community involvement and other agencies, such as social services may be involved.ClinPsycs make an assessment of a client’s needs, plans interventions (putting forward a solution), trains others and research. At the end they evaluate the intervention.

• ClinPsycs gather as much evidence as they can through such methods as listening and discussing with clients, observations, psychometric testing and standardised testing.

• The solutions can involve therapy, counselling or advice.

• They keep a record of assessments and interventions which are kept safely to maintain confidentiality.The practicalities of being a ClinPsych may mean that they are under-funded, which make their working conditions difficult. Time with the ClinPsyc is often limited due to cost.

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Becoming a clinical psychologist

  • ClinPsyc is the most popular career choice for Psyc graduates if they plan to be a psychologist.
  •  Most work for the NHS or private practises. Some work in private practice or in universities – they can earn between £30,000 and £70,000 a year.
  •  You will need a degree in psychology recognised by the BPS. You will have to undertake relevant work experience. You will also need a 3 year full time doctorate course in clinical psychology.
  • You must be able to listen, understand and reflect on the situation of others and help with solutions.
  • You must have an understanding of diversity.
  • You will need to learn to ask open questions.
  •  It is also useful to be able to look at yourself and your own experiences and how these affect others.
  •  Other skills include an ability to search for solutions that are not obvious, good communication skills with both clients, their families and other professionals.
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Clinical Psychologist Treatments


  • This involves helping the client to get into a relaxed state, called an altered state of awareness.
  •  In this state, they are not concerned by everyday problems but can instead have a heightened sense of awareness where they can accept suggestions from the hypnotherapist about overcoming the phobia.


  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Cognitive means thoughts - involves identifying negative automatic thoughts and trying to replace them with less negative thoughts.
  • Exposure-based CBT involves changing the client’s thinking patterns as well as lowering the fear response to the situations that are feared.

Psychodynamic-based therapies

  • These are not often used by ClinPsycs as they feel that the psychodynamic theory is not scientifically tested and should not be used as a therapy.
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