University of Phoenix
Psych /504 Personality Theories
February 4, 2013
Dog Phobia Case Study
A phobia is an “irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid the subject of the phobia” (Ankrom, 2009 pg.325). Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that may leave an individual with a strong irrational fear of something that poses very little or no danger to the individual. Phobias, to the individual may cause physical symptoms such as panic, fear, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling, or a strong desire to avoid a specific situation or object altogether. To the individual affected by a phobia, his or her fear is not only rational but also very real. Overcoming a phobia can be a lifelong process in identifying the true nature of the phobia, finding the origins of the phobia, and possible extinction of the specific phobia. Regardless how a phobia is acquired the individual suffering with this type of anxiety disorder identifies the phobia as real and at times can become debilitating. In this case study of Sally, the topics of operant and classical conditioning and observational behavior are explored as it pertains to the case of Sally and her fear of dogs. In addition, this paper will attempt to explore the different therapies that may be conducive to helping Sally learn to identify and cope with her phobia as well as understanding the origins of her phobia. Dog Phobia Case Study of Sally
“Sally is a twenty three year old woman who has a severe phobia of dogs. She has had this phobia since she had a negative experience with dogs when she was in the second grade. She now goes out of her way to avoid dogs and places that dogs may be. This causes her to experience anxiety when she meets someone new and is invited to an unfamiliar area.” Operant Conditioning
In this example of a dog phobia, Sally may have been affected in several ways while developing this phobia from early childhood. Operant conditioning theory suggests that reinforcement, punishment, and extinction are essential tools to help identify the development of a phobia. In Sally’s case, the incident that occurred in second grade that caused Sally a negative experience with a dog began the initial spark that ignited Sally’s initial fear. Although Sally had the initial experience, most of her experiences from that point forward with other dogs can only be viewed only as negative interaction, thus reinforcing the phobia. Sally developed the initial fear only reinforced her phobia by avoiding other dogs and removing herself from situations that may cause Sally to encounter another dog. Punishment, in operant conditioning theory is any consequence that causes a behavior to occur with less frequency. In Sally’s case, the more she avoided dogs and less interaction with situations that may include a dog, Sally will have less consequences of her phobia. The less Sally interacts with dogs or finds herself in a situation that may lead her to interact with a dog, extinction of Sally’s phobia may occur. Classical Conditioning
Classical conditioning theory suggests that learning new behaviors through the process of association will result in a learned response. Phobias are learned behaviors through traumatic or life altering events, where an individual associates a specific stimulus with a specific response. Certain stimuli introduced in a precise manner will ultimately evoke specific responses in humans (Wells, 1997). In the case of Sally, the unconditioned stimuli (UCS) the negative interaction with a dog evoked an unconditioned response (UCR), a fear of dogs. As time progressed, Sally began to associate her fear of dogs, a conditioned response (CR) with the idea or thought of a situation that involved dogs, a conditioned stimulus (CS), thus causing Sally to avoid people and situations that cause Sally any discomfort. According to the theory of classical...