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Describe ways in which behavioural learning theory has been used to eliminate snake phobias, and suggest some new ways to treat this problem. In addition, discuss why people tend to be prone to certain kinds of phobias more than others.

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Introduction

Describe ways in which behavioural learning theory has been used to eliminate snake phobias, and suggest some new ways to treat this problem. In addition, discuss why people tend to be prone to certain kinds of phobias more than others. A phobia can be described as an irrational fear or dread of an object or situation, this fear is accompanied by a persistent and intense need to flee or avoid this object or situation. Behaviourists follow the reasoning that these phobias are caused by 'maladaptive learning' and that in order to eliminate these, new behaviours must be learnt to replace them. The theories concerning phobias relate to John Locke's (1690) idea that "fears are produced by the chance association of ideas" two events that are unrelated become associated with each other in the mind and a connection is made, this maladaptive learning process produces a phobic response. This essay intends to look at the behavioural learning theory in relation to phobias and will discuss the acquisition of phobias due to classical and operant conditioning, as knowing how phobias are acquired is vital to knowing how to eliminate them. It will use these theories to show how extinction, systematic desensitisation and implosion therapy can eliminate snake phobias. This essay will also discuss the Preparedness theory and how this explains why some phobias are more prominent than others. ...read more.

Middle

This type of conditioning also produces an association, as in classical conditioning but the connection here is between the behaviour and reward. Once the cat realises what it is that allows him to get the food he should be able to repeat this when in the puzzle box again. Thorndike found by looking at the cat's learning curve that they possessed no problem solving ability; the curve declined gradually suggesting that the learning also occurred gradually. The cat slowly learnt which behaviours were correct and which ones were incorrect, Thorndike concluded that this was achieved by the cat learning which response was correct by the reward, this reward then strengthened the response. Skinner (1938) carried out a similar piece of research to Thorndike's 'cat in a puzzle box' but used an adapted version, which he called a 'puzzle box', this research supported Thorndike's theory. Skinner's box allowed the reward to be given repeatedly to the rats and pigeons that he used. The experiment was similar to Thorndike's except the animal was not able to escape. Skinner discovered that there was a strong temporal relationship, that is the time between the received reward or reinforcer and the actual response must be close otherwise a connection will not be made. Conditioning using aversive reinforcements is known as Aversive conditioning, the most common aspect of this is punishment where an aversive stimuli is used to repress an undesirable behaviour. ...read more.

Conclusion

It was found that a fear of snakes was developed as opposed to a fear of flowers. The snake used was a toy snake so it cannot be argued that the amount of movement was to blame for the acquisition of the phobia. This suggests that there is a predisposition to fear the monkey and not the flowers. However, this does not follow the theory that the predisposition relates to objects dangerous to us as the monkeys were bred in captivity therefore had no prior knowledge of snakes. Although it can be argued that a snake would dangerous to a wild monkey it would not be dangerous to the monkeys used in this experiment. Seligman suggests that the reason for this is that our predisposition relates to objects that were dangerous to our ancestors and that we have not had sufficient time to learn what objects are dangerous in our modern society. Another suggestion is that we learn our phobias from what people around us tell us. Parents telling children that snakes and heights are dangerous in order to keep them away from these potential harmful situations. It may also be that while we are growing up we watch how our parents react to objects. If we see that our mother is terrified of snakes and avoids them we too do the same. Andreasen and Black (1996) support this suggestion as they observed that phobias tend to run in families, this could also be due to a genetic factor. ...read more.

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