Psychology - Why do we have phobias?


Phobias and classical conditioning

Classical conditioning - a learning process which builds up an association between the two stimuli through repeated pairings 

Association - the link between the neutral stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus that makes the neutral stimulus cause the same response

Generalisation - when a conditioned response is produced to stimuli that are similar to the conditioned stimulus

Extinction - the loss of a classically conditioned response when the conditioned stimulus is repeated many times without the unconditioned stimulus 

Pavlov's dogs

Studying eating in dogs by measuring their saliva through a tube in their cheek and noticed some dogs started to salivate (a response) before their food arrived because they could hear the footsteps (a stimulus) of the person bringing the food

First, he rang a bell and the dog didn't salivate

Then he rang the bell and gave the dog food, repeated this many times as the conditioning process, leading to the dog salivating at the sound of the bell alone - an association had formed between the neutral stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus, leading to the neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus which causes a conditioned response


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, causing a phobia

Neutral stimulus - a stimulus (prior to conditioning) that does not evoke a response - the bell was a neutral stimulus

Unconditioned stimulus - a feature of the environment that causes a natural reflex action - the food was the unconditioned stimulus

Unconditioned response - a natural response which occurs when the unconditioned stimulus is presented - Pavlov showed the existence of the unconditioned response by presenting a dog with a bowl of food and the measuring its salivary secretions

Conditioned stimulus - a conditioned stimulus is a substitute stimulus that triggers the same response in an organism as an unconditioned stimulus - a conditioned stimulus makes an organism react to something because it is associated with something else - Pavlov's dog learned to salivate at the sound of a bell

Conditioned response - the behaviour elicited by the conditioned stimulus - salivation when the bell rings 

Extinction - the dying out of a conditioned response by breaking the association between the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus - when the bell repeatedly rang and no food presented, Pavlov's dog gradually stopped salivating at the sound of the bell

Spontaneous recovery - the return if a conditioned response (in a weaker form) after a period of time following extinction - when Pavlov waited for a few days and then rang the bell once more the dog salivated again

Generalisation - when a stimulus similar to the conditioned stimulus also elicits a response - if a dog is conditioned to salivate to the sound of a bell, it may later salivate to a similar-sounding bell

Discrimination - the opposite of generalisation, the ability of the subject to tell the


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