A fear of something may begin as an involuntary response that is then reinforced through experience. Fears that arise out of experience may be based an isolated event, or a recurring event that reinforces the behavior. This experience which causes the fear can be analyzed through classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and cognitive-social learning. For example, an individual with a fear of dogs may have had a natural fear without any negative experience which then may be reinforced through actual negative situations. There may not be an explanation of why this fear develops just as a person may have distaste for certain foods, types of music, or specific hobbies, however circumstances may reinforce the fear that commenced without a definitive cause. Someone may have a fear but the fear may not necessarily be one that exists long term when reinforced with positive reinforcements it can be diminished or not so debilitating. This paper will discuss a particular individual, or subject, and her experiences which led to intense fear of dogs, that then diminished as a result of a long periods of positivity in her interactions with dogs.
“Classical conditioning helps explain such diverse phenomena as crying at the sight of a bride walking down the aisle, fearing the dark, and falling in love.” In other words, having a particular experience or series of experiences brings about a permanent change in behavior. The subject as a child had a natural fear of dogs which could be be attributed to lack of interaction, and feeling intimidated by their size, which formed a feeling of danger. Another unconditional stimulus to reinforce this fear is that dogs bark, and their behavior can be unpredictable, which can instill a sense of fear and danger. These natural fears became conditioned through reinforcement from the subject’s parents to be cautious around barking dogs in an attempt to protect her from possible harm by an unfamiliar dog. This reinforced barking to be a sign of aggression. Therefore the subject associated barking with dogs being aggressive causing fear and anxiety also known as a conditioned response.
“Operant Conditioning is learning in which a voluntary response is strengthened or weakened, depending on its favorable or un-favorable consequences.” The fear was a negative reinforcer on two occasions when the subject witnessed dogs biting others, and the attacks were un-provoked. Both of these dogs barked before the incidents occurred. Although the fear was reinforced through these negative situations, years later the subject was continuously exposed to dogs and was able to develop a better understanding of their behaviors and interactions with humans.
These positive interactions alleviated most of the anxiety and debilitating fear she once experienced in the presence of dogs. Through continued interactions the subject was able to better understand the reactions of the dogs were reasonable in response to the particular circumstances the dogs perceived based upon their natural instinct to protect. Over time a better understanding of a dogs aggression and the subject realized that not all dogs bite in all situations.
Cognitive Social Learning
“Cognitive Social Learning is an approach to the study of learning that focuses on the thought processes that underlie learning.” The subject overtime learned that most dogs are not taught to be aggressive because she was constantly put in situations to be around them without negative results. She learned to overcome her fear because she mimicked interactions that were previously seen earlier in life. Her dogs show her affection. She learned that barking can be a reaction to many things and does not signify aggression or danger.
Fear can be can overtime can be diminished by positive reinforcements. The subject now owns five large breed dogs. She is shown affection and loves her dogs. Although her fear is not completely gone, it is manageable and is no longer a phobia. Her fear was debilitating in early years.