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The Psychology of Fear

Fear is known as the unpleasant and often strong emotion caused by the anticipation or awareness of danger. We are all born with a sense of fear but we have the ability to expand our internal library of fear through conditioning and drugs. There are three psychological approaches that cover fear in their own way and that is Biological, Behavioral, and Cognitive.

Biological fear is induced through drugs or other stimulants that interact with the physical part of the body, Behavioral fear is conditioned into us by the bad experiences in our past and by other people who want to control a population.

Cognitive fear is experienced through the loss of functionality due to that fear, this happens because you subconsciously don’t want to make an unprecedented situation worse, etc.

Behavioural Approach

Behaviourism is the approach of studying the behaviors of both animals and humans and the approach is based off the theory of that all existing behaviors are reflexes or reactions encouraged by the environment and its current conditions, this includes historic events on the individual’s life; punishment & repetition of certain behavior.

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This approach gained movement around 1913 when the psychologist John B. Watson wrote an article named Psychology as the behaviorist views it, which essentially kickstarted the entire approach.

The founder of this approach was John Broadus Watson born January 9th, 1878 in Travelers Rest, South Carolina. Religion was heavily enforced during his upbringing due to his mother Emma Watson’s beliefs meaning he was not allowed to drink, smoke, or dance to name a few.

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Through this, she had subjected him as a boy to harsh religious training which encouraged him to develop a strong dislike to any religion and caused him to become a lifelong atheist. During his schooling life, he did not do well. And especially did not excel in Psychology. He also struggled to adapt to urban life hence his rural and isolated upbringing.

He entered college at the age of sixteen and left at the age of twenty-one with a Masters Degree. After that, he created the “Batesburg Institute” a one-roomed school where he was the Principal, Janitor, and Groundskeeper all at the same time. He spent a year in that position. After that he petitioned for president at the University of Chicago this enabled his dive into the psychology world. Where he began studying philosophy under John Dewey. And with the combined influence from John Dewey, James Angell, Henry Donaldson, & James Loeb inspired John Watson to pioneer and develop a very descriptive, objective approach to the analysis of behavior that he later called Behaviorism.

In the 1920s John Watson and an assistant conducted an experiment in a nine-month-old orphan named little Albert this experiment was inspired by Ivan Pavlov’s work with his dogs; where he taught his dogs to salivate whenever he rang a bell. The experiment’s intention was to see if classical conditioning worked on humans as well as animals. At the start of the experiment, he was presented a white rat, a monkey, various masks, and a rabbit. His reactions to these entities/objects were emotionless, he showed no fear towards those stimuli that had earlier been presented to him. Later they had found a stimulant that caused little Albert to cry and that was striking a hammer against a metal bar, this showed Albert feared the noise the bar made.

two months later when Little Albert was eleven months old the same white rabbit was presented and moments later the metal bar was struck with the hammer and Little Albert immediately burst into tears. This process got repeated seven times over seven weeks and each time the bar was stuck in the rat’s presence Albert would burst into tears, after that as soon as the rat was presented Albert would start crying in fear resulting in a successful experiment. John Watson had successfully conditioned a human into having a phobia of rats. But in addition to developing a phobia, Albert had developed a phobia of many things that had similar characteristics to the rat, for example, the family dog had fur similar to the white rat so Albert became scared of that dog along with a fur coat, cotton wool, and a Father Christmas mask, This process was known a generalization.

Another example of conditioning that is not linked to fear is Pavlov’s dogs, in fact, this type of conditioning is what inspired some of John Watson’s works, this type of conditioning is called Classical conditioning or Pavlovian Conditioning. During the late 19th century a Russian psychologist named Ivan Pavlov was researching salivation in dogs and how they responded to being fed. During his experiment, he inserted a small test tube into the side of each of his dog’s cheeks and monitored their salivation when exposed to the meat powder.

Later he had predicted that the dogs would salivate in response to the food being placed in front of them and they did and in addition to that, they salivated to the noise of his assistant’s footstep when they were bringing the food. This caused Pavlov to discover that any object that the dogs learned to associate with the food would trigger the same reaction which was salivating. He later devoted his entire career to this type of learning.

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The Psychology of Fear. (2020, Sep 15). Retrieved from

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