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Development of Phobias

By Eftychia Mar 17, 2011 1286 Words
Analyse different explanations of the development of phobias (use at least three perspectives)
By Eftychia Marathia
Everyone has experienced a feeling of anxiety at one time or another in their lives. It may have been when one deals with issues of work, school, or relationships with family, friends, or significant others. One may also have felt fear about something in particular. For example, fear of heights, closed spaces, or spiders. In the field of psychology there are several different theories of the motivation of phobias. In this assignment, the cognitive, biological and learning perspectives on the motivation of fear and anxiety will be discussed. There is an overall basic distinction between fear and anxiety. Anxiety is a vague unpleasant emotional state with qualities of apprehension, dread, distress, and uneasiness. In addition to these, it is objectless. Phobias are similar to anxiety except that phobias have a specific object. When some optimal level of stimulation or arousal is exceeded, one experiences anxiety. It can be an adaptive healthy response or a debilitating one. In the latter case mentioned, one may lose a large measure of ability to think, act and perform. Anxiety is manifested in three ways: in physiological reactions (biological and inherited), in a person’s thoughts (cognitive) and actions (behavioral). Under the biological perspective, there are three basic conditions which elicit anxiety: overstimulation, cognitive incongruity and response unavailability. Overstimulation refers to a situation in which a person is flooded with information. Cognitive incongruity is when a person has difficulty reconciling with some event, for example, the loss of a loved one. Response unavailability refers to a difficult situation, which a person does not know how to handle. According to the biological theory, the GABA system is responsible for the motivation of phobias and anxiety. GABA is known as Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid, it is a naturally occurring transmitter inhibitor. It is a substance in the body which helps us to maintain an optimal flow of stimulation or information thereby reducing the flow of neural transmission. There are GABA receptor sites which the GABA will bind and produce the effects mentioned previously. The ability to bind is not fixed, and is dependent on the presence of benzodiapines. There are three reasons for the motivation of phobias from the cognitive perspective: loss of control, inability to make a coping response and state anxiety versus trait anxiety. Loss of control refers to a situation when there are unpredictable or uncontrollable events in one’s life which lead to anxiety and depression. As a result, feelings of helplessness develop. The unpredictability which may be associated with a task may cause anxiety. The inability or perceived inability to make an adaptive response to a threatening event or the fact or perception that no such response is available will lead to feelings of anxiety. Since anxiety is very ambiguous, it is the key which prevents the elaboration of clear action patterns to handle the situation effectively. According to the cognitive perspective, the most effective way to deal with anxiety is to transform the anxiety into phobias. Then one will know exactly what is bothering them. Then a plan should be devised to deal with what is feared. Another notion of coping responses is whether a person is self-certain or not. Self- certain people are those who know their own strengths and weaknesses. People who are not self- certain only know their strengths. And since they do not know their own weaknesses, there is a lack of knowledge, thus an inability to create an effective coping response. These tend to be insecure, whereas self-certain people tend to have better self esteem. Self- certain people tend to make plans to deal with their weaknesses. According to the cognitive perspective, one creates coping responses by transforming the anxiety into phobias, and develops a plan to deal with it, which will create a sense of security. Anxiety is an acquirable or conditioned drive which functions to motivate avoidance responding. Therefore, the avoidance response is assumed to be reinforced by a reduction in anxiety. Fear is a conditioned response to pain. If one experiences pain in a specific situation, the stimuli associated with that situation acquire the ability to evoke the same emotional reaction that the pain originally elicited. Many early experiments studying phobias and anxiety involved the use of pain, when the avoidance learning paradigm was created. Animals (often rats or dogs) were placed in a shuttle box. A barrier divided the space into two areas. The animals were administrated a painful shock to the feet, but had the ability to escape through an open door. For rats, the door could be opened by rotating a wheel above the door, by the experimenter, or by pressing a bar depending on the trial. When the rat was placed in the apparatus and the door closed, this started an electric clock, which was a warning sound. According to the avoidance learning paradigm, a participant must learn to make some response to avoid an aversive stimulus. When the response is made early, any anxiety that occurs is immediately reduced. The reduction in anxiety evolves into the reinforcer of the avoidance response. As a result of Pavlovian conditioning, this problem can persist for a long time in the absence of reinforcement. The amount and severity of anxiety that is faced is important in determining whether it will impair the functioning of an individual. There are several different perspectives on the motivations of fear and anxiety: cognitive, learned (or behavioral) and physiological. I think that there is always some physiological reaction that occurs in the brain when an individual experiences phobias and anxiety. Physiological functions play an essential role as they involve emotions, thoughts and ideas that affect human behavior and may result in a type of phobia or anxiety. And I believe both the cognitive and learned perspectives help us understand the motivation of phobias and anxiety. Conditions may vary from situation to situation or culture to culture. Being afraid of spiders, for example, is a product of one’s experiences within a specific environment. When I was little I used to play with other kids and sometimes I had an accident and I got an injured knee. Then I was starting to bleed and at that time I had a very strange feeling. Sometimes I felt dizzy or sick at the sight of blood. Usually I was starting to cry when that happened. During adolescence I started to faint and lose consciousness whenever I saw blood either mine or someone else’s. I believe this feeling developed during my childhood from a negative feeling into a reaction, i.e. fainting, and possibly a type of anxiety or phobia toward blood. Again as could happen with someone attacked at night while walking home, the motivation behind a person’s phobias and anxiety may be the result of the complex relationship of all three perspectives.

Web Resources
Panic attacks, anxiety, shyness, and phobias: Are they running your life? This site is hosted by the University of Washington Health Science Center, “Health Beat”. It describes the various types of anxiety disorders, and has links to other related sites for research and applications. NARSAD: Update on Potential Causes and New Treatments for Anxiety Disorders. Discusses the definitions, prevalence rates, treatments, and causes of anxiety disorders. Anxiety

Provides a very brief definition of anxiety, and distinguishes between state and trait anxiety. Research reveals clues to who suffers panic attacks.
Discussion of what characteristics and biological predispositions can help predict panic attacks. Anxiety Disorders.
Discusses several different anxiety disorders. Provides some prevalence rates of phobias. Provides eleven resources with phone numbers and addresses for obtaining more information concerning phobias or anxiety.

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