Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Most people in the world know the Lord’s Prayer off by heart. Why is this so? In the main it is because it is learned by repetition. One word follows the next, each word a reminder of the next word to come. This is confirmed when we try to recite the prayer backwards, not possible for the vast majority of people. In a way this is a form of conditioning. In this essay we will explore conditioning, especially classical conditioning and its role in forming phobias. We will also discuss a way of using systematic desensitization to recondition these phobias, which can be quite traumatic to the person that has to deal with these phobias on a day to day basis.
Before we can explore phobias and how they are formed we need to examine classical conditioning, as this is at the heart of all phobias. Classical conditioning was first developed by Ivan Pavlov and when we talk about classical conditioning, we talk about stimuli producing responses. A stimulus is an event that subjects can perceive through their senses. Sounds, odours, tastes, and pain are all types of stimuli. Responses are the reaction to the stimuli; these can be described as behaviour. Shivering, jumping, salivation, for example are responses. Classical conditioning happens when two stimuli are paired with each other (Table 1). One stimulus creates a response naturally (a reflex). Pavlov referred to this as unconditional stimuli (US). The response produced by a US is known as an unconditional response (UR), and it usually involves a reflex action evoked by the US (for example, muscle flexion, salivation), (Davies & Buskiet, 2008). Pavlov, who began his career as a physiologist, set up an experiment using dogs and by using a s...
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