AQA A psychology phobia essayWatch
Discuss explanations of phobic disorders (16+8marks)
There are different theories within the biological approach that provide explanations for the occurrence of phobias.One of which is the evolutionary theory.Evidence has been found that suggests that some phobias have been around for a long time,which supports the fact that they may have an evolutionary background.Marks and Nesse proposed that modern phobias are therefore related to ancient fears(stimuli that triggered a feared response ancestors in the EEA).They also suggested that dangers that are present today rarely develop into phobias because unlike ancient fears they haven't been around enough to influence our adaptive selection.The evolutionary theory consists of many parts including the idea of biological preparedness proposed by Seligman 1971.Seligman suggested that animals and humans learn to associate a threatening stimuli(ancient fear)with a feared response thus giving them a selective advantage which they can pass on to future generations.Once acquired this association is difficult to get rid off.
Research support is provided by the study done by Mineka et al,which looked at the behaviour of captive rhesus monkeys.They found that when the captive rhesus monkeys who were not afraid of snakes, observed a wild mother's feared response to the snake.They learned to associate the feared response to the snake thus developing a snake phobia.However, a weakness of this with this approach is that it is based on animal models.Human behaviour cannot be compared to animals as it is much more complex and is thus effected by external factors such as experience and culture.Similarly, another weakness of the study is that it doesn't take into account cultural differences.For example,Browne et al 1990 found that phobic disorders were more common amongst african-americans compared to white americans even when socioeconomic controls where put in place.This suggests that phobic disorders are not determined by evolutionary factors only but rather environmental and social factors are also.An example of this would be the Japanese social phobia, where they fear they might cause others embarrassment.
Phobic disorders can also be explained by a more psychological approach.The behavioural theory proposed by Meyer suggests that phobias are learnt in two stages classical and operant conditioning.The phobia is acquired by classical conditioning and maintained by operant conditioning.Empirical evidence for the behavioural approach is provided by the case study of Little Albert who is a 18 month year old boy.Albert learnt to associate the noise of a bell with a fluffy white object.Once learnt the phobia is maintained by operant conditioning(absence of anxiety is seen as a reward).Thus Little Albert developed a fear of white mice as they are considered as white fluffy objects.However, a weakness of all case studies is that they are ethically impossible to replicate and so are low in external reliability.In addition to this,Bregman et al failed to condition a response in infants to wooden blocks using a loud noise.Hence this suggests that traumatic events don't always lead to phobias such as in the case of Little Albert.Bregman suggested that this might be explained by the idea of biological preparedness.Maybe he would have been more successful at conditioning a response if a live animal as a stimuli as that is an ancient fear.
There is evidence that suggests that the behavioural approach and the evolutionary approach are interlinked.For example,the study by Mineka et al can also be explained the social learning theory and vicarious learning.Thus the behavioural approach seems to support the evolutionary theory as if a phobia is acquired by biological preparedness it will be maintained by operant conditioning.As both approaches are reductionist on their own(reduces phobic disorders to simple principles),real explanation is likely to be a combination of biological and psychological explanations.Akin to this,Sue et al found that different phobias may be a result of different processes.For example agoraphobics were likely to cite a specific incident as a cause compared to arachnophobic who said modelling.Hence maybe different diagnostic techniques should be used and developed including a combination of psychological and biological treatments.