Phobias: Irrational Fear Fear of heights, fear of the number "13," fear of spiders, fear of small spaces. All of these fears are considered phobias. While there are many causes of phobias, one theory uses the notion of preparedness in Pavlovian conditioning. This is a way in which people learn to react to certain stimuli. Scientist and a behaviorist, Pavlov, first discovered this conditioning while experimenting with dogs. He could reliably predict that dogs would salivate when food was placed in the mouth through a reflex called the "salivary reflex" in digestion.
Yet he soon realized that, after time, the salivary reflex occurred even before the food was offered. What Pavlov discovered was first order conditioning. In this process, a neutral stimulus that causes no natural response in an organism is associated with an unconditioned stimulus, an event that automatically or naturally causes a response. This usual association causes the response to the unconditioned stimulus, the unconditioned response, to transfer to the neutral stimulus. The unconditioned stimulus no longer needs to be there for the response to occur in the presence of the formerly neutral stimulus.
Given that his response is not natural and has to be learned, the response is now a conditioned response and the neutral stimulus is now a conditioned stimulus. Hence, certain individuals are more equipped to learn some things easier than others are. This ability is known as preparedness. In Pavlov's experiment the tone was the neutral stimulus that was associated with the unconditioned stimulus of food. The unconditioned response of salivation became a conditioned response to the newly conditioned stimulus of the tone. Considering the two phobias: fear of the number "13" and fear of heights, the latter is most likely to have been produced by Pavlovian conditioning.
This is due to the fact that more people are likely to have obtained preparedness to be afraid of this. There are numerous stories and movies that contribute to this irrational fear. Hence, people are more willing to accept the conditioning and become afraid of high places. This would not be hard to condition into anyone, since it is so commonly feared. Also, the fear of the number "13" is much more irrational than a fear of heights. Falling from a high place is much more likely than being injured by a number.
Thus, preparedness and Pavlovian conditioning most likely caused a fear of heights. In conclusion, phobias can occur through different causes, but Pavlov discovered one theory. This has to do with conditioning and preparedness. In one last example, an intense fear of rats was generated in a little boy named Albert in a study performed by Watson and Raynor. Whenever Albert would reach for a rat, the researchers would make a loud noise and scare him. Through classical conditioning, Albert associated rats with the loud fearful noise and transferred his fear with the noise to fear of rats.
He then went further and associated rats, which are furry, to all furry objects. This last instance exemplifies the theory of Pavlovian conditioning. Unfortunately, phobias do occur. However, at least research has been done to try to solve them..