How Has Preparedness Theory Attempted to Integrate a Pavlovian Model of the Acquisition of Specific Phobias with Biological Specificity? What is the Status of Preparedness Theory Today?

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How Has Preparedness Theory Attempted to Integrate a Pavlovian Model of the Acquisition of Specific Phobias with Biological Specificity? What is the Status of Preparedness Theory Today?


Phobic conditions have far reaching implications on the quality of life of the affected individuals. Essentially, when they are confronted by either a phobic situation or object, they loose control over their entire self. The best option in such instances is to avoid the respective object or situation altogether. The inherent fear culminates in anxiety that affects their quality of life in different ways. In a bid to avoid the phobic situation or object, they tend to restrict themselves especially when the respective situation or object constitutes a common aspect of their lives. Basically, phobia denotes a conditioned reaction which is not only persistent and intense but also specific and irrational. The affected individuals are faced by a compelling urge to entirely avoid the situation or object that triggers the abovementioned reaction.  In most case, phobia tend to be associated with different fear inducing stimuli like heights, spiders, snakes, confined places or thunder.

Statistical evidence indicates that compared to non biological stimuli like motor cars, broken glasses and firearms, biological stimuli have a more likelihood of later developing and triggering phobia. This is regardless of the fact that humans tend to have a closer relationship as well as experience with the biological objects or stimuli as compared to with the non biological stimuli or objects. Basically, it can not be disputed that humans interact more with biological objects than the non biological objects. The preparedness theory was put forth by Seligman (1971) and it revolved around the concept of preparedness. Basically, it seeks to underscore why phobias and fears are more closely associated with biological stimuli and not with non biological stimuli. It is against this background that this paper explores the preparedness theory and shows how this attempts to integrate the Pavlovian model regarding acquisition of distinct phobias with biological specificity. To enhance a harmonic consideration, it begins by discussing the concept of classical conditioning. In addition, it highlights the current state of the preparedness theory.

The concept of classical conditioning was explored by Ivan Pavlov, a renowned Russian psychologist. This addresses the steps that are needed to modify or improve involuntary behavior. In this, a neutral stimulus that does not cause any form of natural response in living organisms is closely associated with the unconditioned stimulus (Bourne & Russo, 1998). The unconditioned stimulus in this regard naturally or automatically causes a response. The association causes a response to the unconditioned stimulus. This response is referred to as the unconditioned response and it is transferred to the neutral stimulus. At this point, the unconditioned stimulus is not needed and the response can feely occur when the former neutral stimulus is present. Because the response is unnatural and has to be learnt in order to occur, it now assumes the state of a conditioned stimulus.

In his experiment, Pavlov used a tone to represent a neutral stimulus and associated this with food, which was in this respect the unconditioned stimulus. The unconditioned response which was salivation became a conditioned response to the tone, which was now a conditioned stimulus. This model is important as it enables an organism to prepare well in advance for a forthcoming vital occurrence or event. In light of phobias, classical conditioning presumes that the phobic fear response is a reaction that is acquired to a non dangerous stimulus. For instance, the normal fear of dangerous stimulus like a poisonous snake has also been extended to snakes that are not poisonous. Nonetheless, classical conditioning is not used to explain the disassociation hat exists between conditioned behavior and cognitions.

In his review, Marks (1989) argues that a significant percentage of the current human race faces have previously been encountered and experienced by their ancestors. These range form storms to animals and innate objects. The ancient populations had devised distinct ways that they employed in dealing with the negative impacts associated with the dangerous stimuli. Traditionally, individuals who responded positively to dangers tended to live longer as well as had more descendants.  In this regard, prepotency is vital as it enables an organism to respond to certain cues more attentively. During their lifetime, organisms naturally learn how to respond or react to certain stimulus.

The reaction or response to the stimuli is a form of adapting to the environment that such organisms live in. It is useful for enabling the organisms to co exist in a harmonic manner with the environment as well as with their felloe organisms. For instance, they react with fear as opposed to nausea when they come in contact with snakes and feel nauseous as opposed to afraid when they come in contact with rotting food. The inherent prepotent attention to the respective stimulus and preparedness according to Marks (1989) constitute initial phases of prepared reactions. To a great extent, the prepared learning of one’s fear is initiated and enhanced by the influences of peers. A study regarding the learning of development of fear of snakes in monkeys found out that the monkeys that are initially unafraid of snakes tend to acquire intense fear after they watch their counterparts exhibit such fear.

Seligman (1971) cites that certain animals and humans usually have a degree of biological preparedness for some occurrences as well as forms of conditioning. In addition the concept of preparedness is applicable to relations as opposed to responses and stimuli. Presumably, humans need to have a learning experience or episode in order for fear to develop. From the point of view of a continuum, some organisms are weakly conditioned while some are strongly conditioned. According to Seligman (1971), organisms can be prepared, non- prepared or contra prepared. Organisms that are prepared exhibit a tendency of learning associations quickly, those that are non- prepared learn associations moderately and those that are contra prepared learn association with difficulty.

In his research, Seligman (1971) indicates that there are four distinct characteristics that are used for distinguishing fears from phobias that are conditioned in the laboratory. These include irrationality, the eases of acquisition, very high resistance to incidences of extinction and belongingness. Basically, phobias are considered to be also non-cognitive. The preceding differences in the phobias can be effectively explained by the theory of preparedness. Furthermore, the fears that are identified or establishe.............

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