Phobias and AddictionS
January 20, 2014
Learning is an unending process that changes our behavior and knowledge due to experience. Behavior is the combination of a person’s actions and mannerisms as well as their responses to stimuli in conjunction with their environment. Through classical and operant conditioning, the two main learning processes in psychology, behavior can be modified in a positive or negative manner (Kowalski, 2011). Although both learning processes vary, they both achieve the same desired outcome, behavior modification. This behavior modification has the potential to be maintained to the point of extinction, but may also reemerge without the proper reinforcements (Kowalski, 2011).
Phobias are excessive, irrational fears of specific, objects, activities, or situations that may cause distress and interfere with social functioning (Phobia, 2011). About fifty million people in the United States have been reported to suffer from at least one of the five hundred different kinds of phobias known in society (Phobias, 2008). The Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained, declares, “While the cause of phobias remain unknown and open to much speculation, some of the most frequent theories name biological, chemical, cultural, and psychological origins – or a mix of the four” (Phobias, 2008). Classical conditioning, founded through Ivan Pavlov’s studies, is “learning a new behavior via the process of association” (McLeod, 2008). In this process, an environmental stimulus (unconditioned stimulus) produces a natural, unlearned response (unconditioned response). The unconditioned stimulus is paired with a neutral stimulus transforming it into a learned stimulus (conditioned stimulus). After a few introductions of the unconditioned and conditioned stimuli, a new behavior or reaction (conditioned response) is formed (McLeod, 2008). Classical conditionings best behavioral modification is in a person’s emotional responses. This means, classical conditioning is able to produce a phobia in a person as seen in the popular, unethical “Little Albert” study (Kowalski, 2011). John Watson and Rosalie Rayner conducted a study on a nine month old baby boy, Albert. Albert was exposed to stimuli with furry, white coats. Initially, Albert was enjoyed the items, playing with them regularly. After introducing a loud bang that startled Albert, causing him to whimper and fall, they began to “condition a fear response in Albert” (Kowalski, 2011). To do this, they chose a white, furry rat as the conditioned stimulus. Each time Albert reached for the rat, they made the same loud bang, eventually bringing him to fear the rat (Kowalski, 2011). This fear was not singular to rats, but all furry white objects, including Watson’s hair, nor was it only in the lab, but in different rooms with different characteristics, as well (Kowalski, 2011). This study is a classic example of how phobias can be developed through classic conditioning. Other phobias can be developed the same way. Another example is when children and shots from the doctor’s office. When a child receives his shots, he feels pain at the point of injection. Over time, exposure to shots allows the child to associate pain with a needle, developing needle phobia (Kowalski, 2011).
Operant conditioning was founded by B. F. Skinner, based on “Thorndike’s Law of Effect” (McLeod, 2007). “Thorndike’s Law of Effect states, ‘behavior is controlled by its consequences’ ” (Kowalski, 2011). After a few studies, Skinner concluded that operant conditioning is a learning process in which behavior is modified through the use of positive and negative reinforcements (Kowalski 2011). Skinner believed that when behavior is followed by a pleasant stimulus, the behavior will increase (Kowalski, 2011). Addictions, because they are voluntary learned behaviors, can be developed through operant conditioning. Wired In is an informative and support website for those battling with drug addictions. The Director is David Clark who wrote an article, Conditioning Models of Addiction, which explains how drug addiction develops. A person is introduced to a drug. Initially, the drug is the stimulus, however, once used it acts as a reward (positive reinforcement). The drug causes the person to feel as if they are in a pleasant state of mind therefore, it is now a reward to the user. Since the behavior is desired by the user, he or she repeatedly uses the drug more frequently accounting for a stronger response and modification of behavior. If the positive reinforcement follows the new behavior immediately, it has a more powerful effect. This increases the chances of constant repetition or new behavior. If the user does not take the drug, he or she goes through the process of withdrawing (negative reinforcement). The negative reinforcement includes physical and psychological discomfort. Not wanting the negative reinforcement, the person continues to use forming their addiction. Clark informs readers that this is a learning process that may operate outside of conscious awareness meaning that there may not be decision making involved in all circumstances (Clark).
Classical and operant conditioning are learning processes with many benefits. After the behavior is modified, it must be practiced or there is a chance of extinction. Extinction is when the conditioned response is weakened causing the new behavior to decrease or disappear (Kowalski, 2011). In classical conditioning, extinction occurs when the conditioned response is weakened by presenting the conditioned stimulus without the uncontrolled stimulus (Kowalski, 2011). The “Little Albert” study was never completed, but other studies suggest that had the bang and furry white items stopped being associated with one another, the possibility of Albert’s fear going away was highly likely. In Operant conditioning, extinction occurs when the connection between the operant and the reinforcement is broken (Kowalski, 2011). In drug addiction, the drug is taken away and the user goes through the negative reinforcement (withdrawal symptoms) until the connection between the drug and pleasure is broken. Both forms of conditioning must be practiced in order to avoid extinction.
Although classical and operant conditioning have the same goal, to modify a certain behavior, they have a few differences that must be learned in order to fully understand each learning process. The major difference would be the types of behaviors conditioned. Classical conditioning focuses on voluntary and automatic behaviors, whereas operant conditioning focuses on voluntary behavior (Cherry). Another difference is the way in which the conditioning is conducted. Classical conditioning uses stimuli before the behavior being conditioned and includes no incentives (Cherry). At times, participants are not even aware that they are undergoing a conditioning process. Operant Conditioning uses stimuli after the behavior being conditioned along with positive and negative reinforcements to strengthen or weaken the behavior (Cherry). Operant conditioning also requires participation or it will not be successful.
Many forms of learning have been established throughout the many years of psychology’s existence. Classical and operant conditioning are two learning process that are great for producing behavior modifications. We see them occur in society, our homes and our careers. In order to maintain the desired results, the behavior must be practiced or it reverts into the process of extinction.
Cherry, Kendra. (2014). Classical vs Operant Conditioning. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/behavioralpsychology/a/classical-vs-operant-conditioning.htm
Clark, David. (2008). Conditioning Models of Addiction. Retrieved from http://www.addictioninfo.org/articles/4137/1/Conditioning-Models-of-Addiction/Page1.html
EBOOK COLLECTION: Kowalski, R., & Westen, D. (2011). Psychology (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
McLeod, S. A. (2008). Classical Conditioning. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/classical-conditioning.html
McLeod, S. A. (2007). Skinner – Operant Conditioning. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html
Phobia. (2011). In Dorland’s illustrated medical dictionary. Retrieved from http://search.credoreference.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/content/entry/ehsdorland/phobia/0
“Phobias.” The Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained. Ed. Brad Steiger and Sherry Hanson Steiger. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 2003. 135-140. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 19 Jan. 2014.