Essay on Cognitive: Psychology and Aversive Stimulus

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PY 1117

Cognitive Psychology Ia

AY 2014/2015

Dr. Martin Jüttner

Handout 4

Modern Applications of Learning Theories
1. Phobias and fear-conditioning theories
- A phobia is an excessive and intense fear, usually of specific objects or situations, such a fear of snakes, spiders, or heights
- Phobias have been of taken as classical examples to demonstrate the significance of
Pavlovian conditioning
- The idea is that an initially neutral stimulus becomes phobic because it has been paired with an aversive stimulus: something traumatic, painful, or frightening (fear conditioning theory, Watson & Rayner (1920))
- Evidence: Watson & Rayner conditioned an 11-month-old child (“Albert”) to fear a laboratory rat by pairing exposure to the rat (CS) with an unexpected banging of a steel bar with a hammer (US)
- Criticism (apart from ethical concerns):
. Albert’s fear of rats decreased between sessions, so he had occasionally be reconditioned. In contrast, real phobias do normally not extinguish (Harris, 1979)
. attempts to replicate the study using other objects (toys) failed
. traumatic experiences do not necessarily lead to phobias (Di Nardo, Guzy & Bak,
2. Phobias - preparedness theory
- According to the preparedness theory (Seligman, 1972; Eyesenck, 1979), evolution has prepared us to acquire fears that have high survival value. Stimuli involved in phobias represent potential dangers in the evolutionary history
- More recently, it has been suggested that there is a dedicated brain circuit (a “module”) for learning prepared fears (Ohman & Mineka, 2001)
- Evidence:
. Cook & Mineka (1990) studied monkeys who had been raised in captivity and therefore had never been exposed to snakes
. the monkeys watched a video which showed footage of either phobia relevant stimuli
(snakes) or unprepared stimuli (flowers) that were combined with footage of other monkeys showing fear and fright (the US)

. When tested later on, monkeys who had seen the snake in the film were more fearful than monkeys who had seen the flowers.
- Note, however, that
. not all phobias involve evolutionarily prepared stimuli (example: dental anxiety, De
Jonghand (1995))
. certain categories of phobias are age-related (Miller, Barrett & Hampe, 1974): 3-4year-old children are more likely to develop animal fears, whereas 13-18- year-old young adults are more likely to develop social fears
3. Treatment of phobias: systematic desensitization
- The basic idea of systematic desensitization (Wolpe, 1958) is counter-conditioning, i.e. the pairing of a phobic stimulus (CS) with an US or a response that is incompatible with fear (e.g., relaxation)
- Further details:
. relaxation training
. imaginal approaches to the feared object using an anxiety hierarchy. Example:
- imagine the written word “SPIDER”
- imagine a cartoon drawing of a spider
- seeing a small spider in a web as you pass a bush
- …larger spider...still larger spider…etc.
- Imagine finding a spider in your bath or bed
. at each level items of the hierarchy are paired with instructions to relax. The aim is to have relaxation dominate tension (anxiety)
- S.D. has become the method of choice for fears with identifiable referents (insects, snakes, heights etc.)
- According to Davison (1968) the pairing of a relaxation response with items from the anxiety hierarchy is essential - using the two components (relaxation and exposure) independently is not sufficient
- Spiegler & Guevrement (1993) suggest that one has to distinguish between essential and facilitative components in systematic desensitization. Accordingly, the repeated exposure to items of the fear hierarchy without the client experiencing any negative consequences is an essential component of the method, which is made more effective by the counderconditioning with a relaxation response
4. Treatment of addiction: aversion therapy
- Aversion therapy is based on the idea to condition an