I will be comparing classical and operant conditioning by explaining fear of heights. Fear of heights is known as Acrophobia. The phobia part does not occur until a person is in an environment that most people would be relatively fine in, such as attending a theme park or being in a building such as a sky scraper for example. Most of the time when treating someone with acrophobia therapists will use graded exposure therapy.
Any fear starts by learning, so if a person has a fear of heights it is most likely due to an event that happened early on in life that made a dramatic change in the persons every day behavior, such as falling out of a tree at a young age. If a person has a severe phobia to heights behavior can vary. For example, a person can faint or have extreme anxiety when in an environment around heights. Another example to discuss, research does in fact prove that a certain amount of reluctance around heights is normal for humans and animals.
In the 1960’s research psychologists J. Gibson and R. D. Walker, conducted an experiment known as the visual cliff. The two researchers placed thirty six babies, one at a time on a counter top made of half solid plastic covered with a checkered cloth and the other half clear Plexiglas. Each baby would ponder when crawling and rely on the mother’s facial expression a happy expression would give the okay to keep crawling and an alarming look would signal the babies to stop crawling. This study shows that when we are faced to make an emotional decision people can be like the babies in the study done, we can remain on the counter top until we are faced with uncertainty.
This study shows how cognition can be manipulated by emotion. So, if a person has a fear like heights, Psychologists often use conditioning or classical conditioning to help treat a person, because the fear is a learning process, and a person has to relearn which involves repeatedly pairing a neutral stimulus with a response. Doing this produces stimulus until the neutral stimulus elicits the same response. The visual cliff example given, is a great example of a conditioned response.
If a person is influenced or is given a negative response it can contribute to fear and through life if more traumatic experiences follow eventually a person can be manipulated by the fear. The more negative reinforcement is involved the bigger the fear develops. For someone having a fear of heights, if the person knows they have to go somewhere a meeting for example, and they have to take an elevator to the 50th , floor, in that persons mind they are going to be going crazy with negative thoughts and feeling overwhelmed with anxiety.
But, if the person tells themselves after it is done with “well what was the big deal? What was I so afraid of? ”. That negative reinforcement turns into positive reinforcement eventually. This is known as operant conditioning. Sometimes medication for anxiety may have to be prescribed by a psychiatrist if the fear is so excessive. Talking about the fear is a good start, a psychologist can then determine if the fear was learned possibly through observation or if the fear was through a learned experience. If fear of heights is affecting a person’s environment then a change needs to be made in order help treat the fear.
By using positive reinforcement and determining if the person’s behavior from the fear was caused by learning through experience or observed environmentally, it can help determine how to further treat the person. But, if the fear goes untreated the anxiety and stress from it will only grow bigger creating more of an issue for the person and being able to live their everyday lifestyle. Psychotherapy is very helpful in treating anxiety disorders and phobias . In order to treat acrophobia a person needs to find a therapist who can meet their needs.
Therapists ill help focus on the best way to treat the person with this disorder, the most common way is using cognitive behavioral therapy. Restructuring a person’s thoughts into positive thoughts is another helpful tip used, and talking about the fear and identifying what is causing the fear to become so out of control, and lastly meeting on a regular basis and determining if medication is needed and seeing what the person with this fear can do in their everyday lifestyle to make themselves more comfortable until they are eventually feeling like they have control over the fear and the fear is no longer controlling them.