A phobia is an irrational fear to stimuli that is disproportionate to the actual threat of the stimuli. The cause of phobias cannot be linked to one specific thing. Some phobias are believed to be inherited or influenced by culture. Phobias can be developed through classical conditioning which is occurs when two stimuli become associated during a heightened emotional state to elicit an involuntary response, negative or positive, from the subject.
In 1920 John Watson and his colleague Rosalie Rayner performed one of the first studies on the effects of classical conditioning and emotional reaction. In this study they wanted to show the process of conditioning the emotional response of fear in a child (Watson & Rayner, 2000). They found that by pairing the sound of a steel bar banging behind his head with a white rat the child would show signs of distress that were not present when the child would play with white rat without the loud noise. Watson and Rayner found that classical conditioning methods used on the child caused a negative response to other white furry objects such as Santa Claus’s face and Watsons white hair. These reactions were present months after the initial case study. However, Watson and Rayner were not able to test if the phobia would still remain years later or into adulthood. While this study was not ethically sound it was very thought provoking.
Operate Conditioning deals with the cause-and-effect relationship between a voluntary behavior and consequences. When a behavior is rewarded it increases and when we punish a behavior it decreases (Horvath, Misra, Epner, & Cooper, 2005). For example, if a child receives a good grade in school and the parents reward the child by removing the child’s chores for a week then the parents are increasing the likelihood of the child receiving good grades again. Negative consequences are also utilized in operant conditioning. For instance, if the child receives bad grades in school and...