Hi everyone, this week’s post will be the first of two – all about phobias. This first post will cover causes and types of phobias, and the next on will talk more about treatments. And, as no post about phobias is complete without a quick phobia quiz – what do you think these phobias are? (scroll down for answers!)
- Fear of wild animals
- Fear of mice
- Fear of pins
- Fear of clowns
- Fear of ghosts
Although some of these phobias are unusual, some are more common than others – with Arachnophobia (fear of spiders) probably being one of the most well known. However, there is an important distinction between people who simply don’t like spiders, and would prefer not to be in the same room as them, or not want to touch them, and people who are afraid of spiders i.e. have Arachnophobia. Sufferers of this phobia will experience extreme anxiety and panic if they come into contact with a spider, or even just look at a picture of one. This is a much more severe reaction.
According to the mental health charity Mind, there can be different reasons for a phobia to develop, from learned experiences to genetics. However, although it is true that some people develop phobias after a bad experience e.g. developing a fear of driving after a car crash, this does not occur for everyone with a phobia. Phobias can also be learnt, from observing other people’s reactions, for example if when you were young your older sibling always screamed and ran away from wasps, you might learn to do the same and develop a phobia of them, even if you’ve never been stung.
One famous (and very unethical) experiment on whether a baby could be given a specific phobia was carried out in the 1920’s by Watson & Raynor. The infant – ‘Little Albert’ had no fears or phobias at the start of the experiment, and the researchers wanted to investigate whether he could be given a phobia of white rats. As this picture shows, before the experiment started, he wasn’t frightened.
This study used principles of classical conditioning to give him a phobia – every time he was given a white rat, a loud noise was made by striking a metal bar with a hammer. Understandably, this noise scared him and made him cry. After this happened several times, he began to become upset when he was presented with the rat alone – the rat had become the conditioned stimulus (to read more about classical conditioning, see my blog post here). They also found that his phobia become generalised to other things that were white an furry, such as a white rabbit or when the experimenter wore a big white beard! No one is really sure what happened to Albert after this experiment, and whether his phobia continued into the rest of his life. It’s safe to say however that experiments like this one would not be allowed to take place now.
Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check back next week for Phobias Part 2.