Phobias and Addictions
December 17, 2010
The works and research of Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner, the leader in behaviorism, help to illuminate and deepen the knowledge of how classical and operant conditioning, play an important role in the treatment of phobias and addictions. Phobias have a wide range of inflictions and limitations ranging from mild and moderate to severe. Addictions vary within themselves as well, from mild cases to those far more complex. For as many differences in diagnosis of these afflictions, the treatments to help cure them are just as diverse. Because of this, it is important to understand how the classical and operant conditioning work in partnership with the therapeutic approach to help those afflicted with phobias and addictions.
The emotional difficulties of phobias and addictions have caused learning theorists to examine classical and operant conditioning in attempting to understand and treat patients with these disorders. Before a problem is treated, it is first identified which is not an easy matter for those who suffer with panic disorder because it often mimics physical ailments. Most sufferers believe they have a “rare, mysterious physical ailment, or even worse, that they are going crazy” (Weinstock & Gilman, 1998, p. 4). Addictions, on the other hand, offer many potential indulges, ranging from alcohol consumption, heroin and cocaine abuse, overeating, compulsively overspending, excessive smoking, sexual, and love addiction. “People have a great capacity to participate in behaviors that provide momentary pleasure only to extract an emotional or physical toll” (Simon & Chopra, 2007, p. viii). Phobias are identified as being fear based often stemming from childhood or a traumatic experience, whereas addictions give the user the temporary feeling of well being or happiness while removing or covering up the underlying problems the user is attempting to avoid by indulging in substance or drug abuse. Classical conditioning according to psychology.about.com is defined as a technique used in behavioral training. It begins with a naturally occurring stimulus such as experiencing being exposed to something that evokes a response like anxiety, which is a conditioned response to the conditioned stimulus, that creates the anxiety, such as a seeing a spider, getting on a freeway, elevator, or whatever the feared stimulus is. To further illustrate this, classical or operant conditioning is best understood by remembering Ivan Pavlov’s research with dogs and can be summed up in four categories: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment. Pavlov noted that every time dogs are fed, they salivate. This is a natural bodily response to a stimulus. Pavlov rang the bell but did not feed the dogs. The dogs salivated anyway, despite the absence of food. He then began to ring the doorbell as it was time to eat. Each time the bell rang the dogs began to salivate. Because the dogs responded to the bell by salivating, it demonstrates the dogs learned to associate the bell with feeding so much so their bodies responded to the bell as if there were food there. This process of learning to associate one thing with another is known as classical conditioning. To further explain, the unconditioned stimulus in this example is the smell of the food, which initially made the dogs hungry. The unconditioned response is the unlearned response that occurs naturally in response to the unconditioned stimulus which evokes the feeling of hunger to the smell of the food. Although the whistle was unrelated to the smell of the food, the sound of it eventually triggered the conditioned response making it the conditioned stimulus. Although people do not respond exactly like Pavlov’s dogs, psychology about.com also states these techniques are also useful in the treatment of phobias or anxiety problems. Applying classical...
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