From the moment we enter into this world from the womb, humans are bombarded with stimuli and other conditioning. This stimulus plays a significant role in developing who we are, how we perceive elements before us and as important, how we react to those stimuli or events. The course that we take on this journey varies greatly from person to person. The various theories and methods discussed in the proceeding paper will evaluate the potential results from these various stimuli and conditioning, where they derive from and how they impact our learning experience. Throughout the world, there are few learning experiences that rival the association of sharks and the ocean and the subsequent fear that is elicited by people as a result. Some fear has reached an irrational level and is known as galeophobia, which means “Excessive and persistent fear of sharks” (Definition of fear of sharks, 2012, para. 1). These fears can occur on their own.
However Hollywood of past, the maker of “JAWS” and ever increasing current events covered by expanding media have assuredly brought many new shark phobias into the fold. Fears commonly develop from the unknown or based on what cannot be seen, and those of the deep continue to underlie a mysterious phenomenon. On top of that, recent proof of bull sharks making their way into the brackish waters of rivers and tributaries have only validated some of these fears. As an experienced outdoorsman, surfer and diver, I have learned to have respect for all of my surroundings. While mankind typically has a good command of their surroundings, we are at risk on a daily basis, from muggings to shootings, to vehicle accidents and more. Climb a mountain, walk a ledge, run out in lightening or swim in the ocean and possibilities of injury or more are there. We simply must live our lives regardless and accept the risks that we face.
People, throughout times, have been drawn to the coasts and oceans, first as a means of access ways for trade and some time after as a place of relaxation. We have always known there were mysterious creatures in the sea, some dangerous and sharks are definitely among the top of the predators. Classical conditioning can play a role in developing situations such as this fear. In this instance, the shark is the unconditioned stimulus, as most people would inherently fear it. As such, fear would constitute the unconditional response. The neutral stimulus, in this case, would be the beach or entry into the waters of the beach. “After some such pairings the CS will elicit, by itself, a conditioned response (CR) very much like UR.” (Reber, Allen, Reber, 2009) Shark attacks have occurred for as long as we have been associated with the water.
Over the past several decades, is that shark attacks, movies concerning them, and an increasing media presence to cover the actual occurrences, have misrepresented the actual level of danger associated with swimming at beaches. This misrepresentation has caused people to now associate beaches to sharks. Beaches have become for many, the conditioned stimulus, and those associating that conditioned stimulus to sharks is exhibiting a conditioned response. In the case of Operant Conditioning, behaviors are based on consequences. These consequences could be in the form of repeatable behaviors or reinforcement or punishments. “Any well-trained “operant” is in effect a habit.” (Staddon, 2003) An example of its use would be that the South African Coast is notorious for sharks, especially Great Whites.
A surfer entering the water with no incidents will likely continue to enter, reinforced by the fact that no attack occurred. On the other hand, if that surfer were attacked, that would be a strong consequence, in the form of punishment, to discourage further entry. Cognitive social learning involves less of outside stimulus and relies more on the inherent capabilities of the individual to assess the stimulus and make determinations. In the same South African Coast example, the surfer, knowing that a particular area had many sharks, would have developed sufficient reasoning.
To determine that he or she should find another safer, less populated area to surf in. In all of the learning theories discussed, there are elements of each that work best in particular situations. Overall, it is my opinion that cognitive-social learning is the most reliable theory, with regards to the learning process, for it relies on the inherent nature of the beings. Classical conditioning utilizes association that does not necessarily pertain to that behavior. Consequently, operant conditioning modifies behavior only after several occurrences and or consequences.
MedicineNet.com. (June 14, 2012). Definition of Fear of sharks. Retrieved from http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=12519 Staddon, J. E. R., & Cerutti, D. T. (2003). Operant conditioning. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 115-44. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/205795898?accountid=458 Classical conditioning. (2009). In A. Reber, R. Allen, & E. Reber, The Penguin dictionary of psychology. London, United Kingdom: Penguin. Retrieved from http://search.credoreference.com.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/content/entry/penguinpsyc/classical_conditioning/0
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