Psychology Topic D

Why do we have phobias

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  • Created by: M
  • Created on: 15-05-12 14:43

Classical conditioning and phobias

If a fear is triggered by something when a harmless stimulis is present, an association may be made between two things. This can cause a phobia to be learnt.

1. The neutral stimulus has no effect

2. The unconditioned stimulus produces the required effect

3.This effect is the unconditioned response

4. Associate the unconditioned stimulus with the neutral stimulus to get the unconditioned response

5. The neutral stimulus has the unconditioned response which is now the conditioned response.

GENERALISATION: This is when a conditioned response is produced to a stimuli similar to the conditioned stimuli

EXTINCTION: This is when the conditioned stimulus is repeated without the unconditioned stimulus

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Social learning theory and phobias

Vicarious reinforcement: learning through the positive consequences of other peoples actions rather than firsthand- we are more likely to copyt them if we think we are going to be rewarded.

Modelling: imitating the behvaiour of someone

Social learning in animals:

  • Social learning can apply to animals as well as applying to humans
  • Curio doducted a study upon two blackbirds: a teacher and a pupil. They could not see eachother. A teacher gave a warning call because it was exposed to a threat and the at the same time the pupil was a exposed to a non-threat. This made the pupil associate the warning call with the non-threat.
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Phobias and preparedness

The theory of preperedness is the tendancy to learn some associations more qucickly, easily and permenently than others because we have evolved to be afariad of some things.

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Experiments using animals: ethical issues

  • Causing pain and fear: Some experiments on animals can cause paon or fear. This is only dione when it is essential to the experiment. The experimenter has to make sure that only the lowest level of pain or fear possible is inflicted.
  • Social isolation: In some experiments it is important to keep animals on their own. For socialable animals this may cause distress so the time alone should be kept to a minimum
  • Number of animals: It is often important to use serveral animals to be sure that the result is typical rather than just a one off. But researchers still have to use the smallest amount of animals possible.
  • Choice of species: Different species of animal find different things distressing. Researchers should choose animals that should be the least distressed under certain conditions.
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Experiments using animals: practical issues


  • Humans and animals are similar: Humans and animals share evolutionary history so they are similar. Animals that are like us have brains more like ours. This is important because our brains control the way we think and learn.
  • Animals are simpler than humans: The behaviour of animals is often simpler than human behaviour. This means they can help us to understand why humans react the way that they do.
  • Deprivation: Depriving animals of food of social companions is often important in experiments on learning. This is possible on animals but it would be unethical on humans as it would be potentially harmful.
  • Animals are interesting and can benefit: One practical reason to study animals is that the animals can benefit and it is also interesting for us to learn about them.


  • Humans and animals are different: Although humans and animals are similar, there are very important differences. This may mean that findings from experiments may not apply to humans.
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How to treat phobias


  • This is based on the idea that we can break the negative response we have to a stimulus.
  • Anxiety will rise until it peaks and then it will naturally fall back down
  • If a person becomes relaxed around a feared stimulus they will lose the response of anxiety
  • This is because we can't be anxious and relaxed at the same time
  • The person then associates the fear with relaxation


  • Could be distressing
  • Protection of participants
  • Right to withdraw
  • Not always effective
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How to treat phobias

Systematic desensitisation:

  • Similar to flooding but less stressful and the process is gradual
  • Based on the same principle that you cannot be relaxed and anxious at the same time so eventually relaxation replaces anxiety and so the phobia is cured.

1. Patient describes the feared object or situation

2. With the therapist the patient creates a hierarchy of fears

3. The therapist teaches the patient relaxation techniques

4. The therapist gradually exposes the client to each stage of the hierarchy

5. They continue until the patient can reach the top of the list without anxiety

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Clinical psychologist 1


  • Works with those with mental health issues
  • Suggests solutions
  • Training
  • Research
  • Deals with anger


  • NHS
  • But some work privacy if they register with the BPS
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Clinical psychologist 2


  • Listen, understand and reflect on the situation of others
  • Help with solutions
  • Understand diversity


1. You need a degree in psychology that is recognised by the BPS

To become a clinical psychologist you must get relevant qork experience

3. You then have to apply for a place on a doctrate course

4. The doctorate lasts three years and is full time.

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How do clinical psychologists treat phobias

  • Systematic desensitisation
  • CBT: it involves identifying the negative emotion and trying to replace it with less negative emotions
  • Exposure based CBT: this involves changing the clients thinking patterns as well as systematically lowing the fear response
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Psychodynamic based therapies: these focus on understanding the phobia
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