The Behaviourist Explanation of Phobias


The Two-Process Model

Mowrer proposed this model which suggests that phobias are first acqurie through classical conditioning and then maintained throguh operant conditioning.

Classical Conditioning: how phobias are 

  • Classical Conditioning refers to learning by association.
  • Phobias are acquired by associating a neural stimulus with a fear response.

Case Study of Little Albery (Watson and Raynor)

  • Before Conditioning: UCS (white rat) --> UCR (happy)
  • Watson & Raynor foudn that Albert showed a natural fear response to loud noises (UCS)
  • During Conditioning: UCS (white rat) + NS (loud bang) --> UCR (cry)  [repeat a few times]
  • After Conditioning: CS (white rat) --> CR (cry)
  • This caused him to cry at everything white and fluffy e.g. santas beard, cotton wool (Stimulus Generalisation)
  • Once a phobia has been acquired, it is maintained by operant conditioning.

Operant Conditioning: how phobias are maintained

  • Operant conditioning states that if behaviours are reinforced they are likely to be repeated.
  • In this case phobias, the phobic repsonse is unpleasant and escaping from the object or situation causes a reduction in fear. This is an example of negative reinforcement. 



  • Application to therapy. Behaviourist ideas have been used to develop treatments including SD and flooding. Systematic Desensitisation


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