By: Selina Appel
January 17, 2011
A phobia is a learned bodily response in reference to a difficult life event. Centered in the amygdala portion of the brain which regulates the "fight or flight" response, a somatic sensation of anxiety occurs in the presence of specific stimuli. The precipitating factor may have been experienced by the person themselves-or may have been experienced "secondhand" through misfortune that may have occurred to a friend or loved on. In some cases, a phobia may have no discernible cause or may appear "irrational"-to everyone but the person experiencing it! Phobic reactions or symptoms of anxiety can include: a racing heart, sweaty palms, an upset stomach and a general feeling of unease. Classical conditioning is a response that is triggered by an outside stimulus-or the thought of such stimulus. The perfect example is the Pavlovian response-in which Pavlov would ring a bell before dinnertime and his dogs would salivate. Over time, he extinguished the presence of the food yet kept the ringing of the bell. The dogs still salivated-at the idea of food coming, a basic bodily response to the suggestion of a specific stimulus. This is commonly referred to as a "Pavlovian response." Classical conditioning has two components to it-the acquisition stage and the extinction phase. In the acquisition stage, the initial learned response is obtained. For example, in the case of a phobia-a person may break out in a cold sweat presence of crossing a bridge as he drives. In the extinction phase, the bridge may not be present but the memory of it may be present-enough to still cause the phobic reaction. Thus, merely thinking about a stimulus, even when it is extinct, can still bring on the same phobic response. The phobic response, therefore, is strengthened each time it is felt. The stimulus-present or not-extinct or not-become fused together in the person's mind. The phobia sufferer...