Are Phobias Classical or Operant Conditioning?

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“Are phobias classical or operant conditioning?” isn’t a common question asked by those suffering from phobic disorders.

But, knowing how phobias come to be and how they are presented can help you better understand the nature of these challenging events.

Understanding how classical and operant conditioning are correlated when discussing phobias can also help you seek the most valuable treatment possible.

What Are Phobias?

Before we get into classical and operant conditioning definitions, understanding phobias is most important.

A phobia is technically classified as an irrational or extreme fear or aversion to a stimulus.

Fear is often associated with an object that would otherwise not be frightening to others.

There are hundreds of different phobias individuals experience around the world.

A few of the most common examples include:

  • Aerophobia: Fear of flying
  • Emetophobia: Fear of vomiting
  • Claustrophobia: Fear of being in confined spaces
  • Agoraphobia: Fear of situations where escape is challenging
  • Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders

What Are the Symptoms of Phobias?

Depending on the person and the type of phobias, symptoms can vary significantly.

However, a few classical markers typically occur when an individual is faced with the object of their phobias.

These symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Tightness or pain in the chest
  • Heart palpitations or accelerated heart rate
  • Feelings of faintness and dizziness

What Is Classical Conditioning?

Classical conditioning is often defined as a learning process. This learning process happens when two stimuli, regardless of type, are paired together.

In these situations, the two stimuli work together to elicit a response. For the conditioning to occur, this process will happen many times.

The individual has entered classical conditioning when the second stimulus eventually occurs because of the first stimulus.

This process is particularly helpful in understanding how phobias are created.

How Phobias Are Created With Classical Conditioning

Extensive research has been conducted into how phobias develop and their common characteristics.

It has since been determined that classical conditioning explains how phobias are developed.

When an individual experiences a phobia, it’s a result of associating between a neutral and unconditioned stimulus.

A neutral stimulus can be explained as an item that would otherwise have no association to fear, such as a chair.

In contrast, an unconditioned stimulus can lead to an automatic response, such as a loud noise.

These two stimuli create a new response to occur when combined.

For example, if an individual hears a loud noise and sees a chair, the newly developed response could turn into a phobia.

This explanation is also why we often see individuals express phobias about various stimuli.

It’s also quite common for phobias to surround objects that would otherwise seem non-threatening to neurotypical individuals.

learn if phobias classical or operant conditioning

What Is Operant Conditioning?

The general understanding of operant conditioning is relatively simple. It is another learning method that can affect expressed behavior.

With operant conditioning, the brain begins to associate behaviors and consequences.

Operant conditioning is unique because the brain can make the association between negative or positive consequences.

Such as getting a treat or being shocked by an electric device for expressing a behavior.

There have been many popular studies that have explored the concepts of operant conditioning.

Fortunately, this psychological phenomenon is also a fantastic way to assist with understanding phobias.

How Phobias Are Maintained With Operant Conditioning

Developing a phobia is one thing; it’s another process to maintain a phobia over an extended period.

This point is where operant conditioning comes into play.

Operant conditioning is typically involved in situations where people learn due to behavioral outcomes.

Rewarding outcomes often reinforce behaviors to be repeated, adding to positive reinforcement.

On the other hand, negative reinforcement is an individual avoiding a situation because of unpleasant feelings.

With phobias, individuals often result in negative reinforcement, avoiding the stimuli that make them feel fear, an unpleasant feeling.

By avoiding fearful or uncomfortable situations, the mind unknowingly reduces the fear response and increases an avoidance response.

Individuals with phobias aren’t tackling the fear but are instead staying away from it.

Unfortunately, this cycle of events can cause phobias to continue, as the fearful stimuli are not being addressed.

Understanding Phobias and Treatment

For someone who has a phobia, the concept of treatment might seem like a far-away dream.

How are you supposed to retrain yourself not to be afraid of something that feels so terrifying?

Fortunately, plenty of valuable treatment options are available, along with all of the research into these mental struggles.

With that said, working your way out of a phobia can be incredibly challenging but more rewarding.

You’ll have the opportunity to escape the stimulus grappling with your existence for an extended period.

Let’s look at some of the indicators that could suggest it’s time to seek medical counsel.

When Do I Need Therapy for a Phobia?

Have you ever experienced a situation where you felt deep, intense fear over non-frightening stimuli? If so, you could be experiencing a phobia.

It’s important to note that phobic disorders are more than getting “creeped out” by something.

They are a significant, severe psychological and physiological response followed by many symptoms.

The majority of sufferers suggest that they experience anxiety and panic attack-like symptoms when faced with their phobias.

For many, simply thinking of the stimulus can trigger a flood of anxiety.

The number one indicator to look for when deciding whether to seek treatment is how the fear affects your life.

When thinking or faced with the root of your phobia, does it affect your daily life?

Do you spend a significant amount of time avoiding the stimuli to prevent the panic attack-like symptoms?

If so, it can be highly beneficial to seek a psychologist or psychiatrist to help you work through the significant mental trauma.

How Are Phobias Treated?

Let’s explore the most common treatments for phobias and phobic-related disorders.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is the most recognizable form of therapy you’ll likely experience with a phobia.

It’s also one of the most challenging treatment options for sufferers.

As a type of behavior therapy, exposure therapy gradually exposes patients to the subject of their phobia.

Although that seems very overwhelming, it’s a proven process where your psychologist will guide you along the way.

As trained professionals, psychoanalysts will assist you with relaxation techniques to keep you calm during the process.

Exposure therapy is unique because it helps you form new responses elicited when you’re exposed to your feared stimuli.

The central premise of exposure therapy is gradual exposure rather than jumping head-first into treatment.

Over time, your therapist will gradually bring you closer to your fear. Typically, it will start with imagining the stimuli, then viewing photos or videos.

Your psychologist will provide you with coping mechanisms and relaxation skills to manage your anxiety with each step.

As you begin to defuse the negative feelings with gradual exposure, your brain will form new connections.

Eventually, you’ll systematically desensitize yourself, getting rid of triggers that spark your phobia.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is another massively popular option for treating many mental disorders, including phobia.

It incorporates most, if not all, the same steps towards systemic desensitization as exposure therapy.

However, it takes an additional step by helping you identify unhelpful, inaccurate patterns in associating your fears.

With the help of CBT, patients often find it’s easier to identify their triggers, work their way through phobic episodes, and develop more realistic thoughts.

It’s a long-term approach that can undoubtedly help you eradicate your fear over time.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming is another interesting area of treatment when dealing with phobias.

In many instances, individuals find processes such as Visual-Kinesthetic (NK) Dissociation can help.

The central premise of this strategy is to help sufferers try to experience their phobia from a different perspective, such as an observer.

With NLP-related therapy, you can master the art of mindfulness and control.

It can also help you better understand how to use purposeful dissociation to have a better outside look at events.

Above all else, it’s something that you can begin doing on your own without professional help.

Although Neuro-Linguistic Programming isn’t a treatment on your own, it can work well with standard practices.

When added to exposure therapy and CBT treatment plans, NLP can be beneficial.

Let’s look at some of the best resources you can use to begin understanding NLP on a deeper level.

Are Phobias Classical or Operant Conditioning?

If you’re asking, “Are phobias classical or operant conditioning?” they are a combination of both.

Phobias are first developed through classical conditioning and maintained through operant conditioning.

By understanding the foundation of the problem, you can quickly get the help you need to manage your mental health disorders effectively.

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