An Evaluation of the Behavioural Approaches to Phobias

Topics: Behavior

Mowrer proposed the two-process model Classical conditioning says that we learn phobias by association. We associate a neutral stimulus with an unconditional stimulus, which then leads to a new association being learned. For example, if our unconditioned stimulus is the sound of a metal bar being struck this leads to an unconditioned response of fear. If we pair the unconditioned stimulus with a neutral stimulus of a white rat. then we will learn to associate the sound of the metal bar being struck, with the rat.

This means that the rat becomes the conditioned stimulus, leading to a conditioned response of fear. 0n the other hand, Operant conditioning says that we learn things by reward and punishment.

If we do something and we are rewarded for it, we are more likely to repeat the behaviour in the future. However. if we are punished for it. we will be less likely to repeat the behaviour due to negative reinforcement; thus, showing that the theory explains how phobias are maintained.

The avoidance of the phobic stimulus is rewarding and so we are more likely to repeat this avoiding behaviour. One limitation of the two-process model is that it does not explain the development of all phobias. Some people cannot remember an incident that caused their phobia to develop. This may be because different phobias are as a result of different processes. Arachnophobics often say that they saw someone else that feared spiders which caused their phobia to develop.

Therefore, this shows that perhaps neither classical or operant conditioning can explain the development of all phobias, Linking this point to the next, another criticism of the two-process model, is that biological preparedness may be an even better explanation than the two-process model of how phobias develop.

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Seligman says animals are genetically prepared to learn associations between fear and stimuli that were life-threatening in our evolutionary past i.e. Lions, snakes etc. For example, fear is easier to condition to some things i.e. spiders, than other things toasters, even though toasters are arguably more dangerous than spiders.

Therefore, this shows that behavioural explanations alone cannot explain the development of phobias. Finally, a further criticism of the to process model is that a phobia does not always develop after a traumatic incident. For example, Dinardo et al found that not everyone who experiences a dog bite develops a phobia of dogs. This links to the diathesis-stress model which says we inherit a genetic vulnerability for developing mental disorders, but this will only become apparent if it’s triggered by a life event, such as being bitten by a dog. Therefore, a dog bite only perhaps only leads to the development of phobias to people with such vulnerabilities.

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An Evaluation of the Behavioural Approaches to Phobias. (2023, Jan 10). Retrieved from

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