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How does classical conditioning explain phobias?

Classical conditioning explains phobias as learned associations between a neutral stimulus and a fear response.

Phobias are irrational and intense fears of specific objects, situations or activities that can interfere with daily life. Classical conditioning suggests that phobias are learned through association between a neutral stimulus and a fear response. For example, if someone has a traumatic experience with a spider, they may develop a phobia of spiders. In this case, the spider is the neutral stimulus that becomes associated with the fear response.

The process of classical conditioning involves three stages: acquisition, extinction and spontaneous recovery. During acquisition, the neutral stimulus (spider) becomes associated with the fear response (anxiety) through repeated pairing. Extinction occurs when the neutral stimulus is repeatedly presented without the fear response, leading to a decrease in the fear response. However, the fear response can reappear during spontaneous recovery if the neutral stimulus is presented again.

Classical conditioning can also explain how phobias are maintained through avoidance behaviours. If someone with a spider phobia avoids spiders, they never have the opportunity to extinguish the fear response. This avoidance behaviour reinforces the fear response and maintains the phobia.

In conclusion, classical conditioning provides a useful explanation for the development and maintenance of phobias. Understanding how phobias are learned can inform the development of effective treatments, such as exposure therapy, which involves gradually exposing the person to the feared stimulus in a safe environment to help them overcome their fear.

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