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Conditioning theory

Conditioning theory

Perhaps the most prevalent theory in anxiety research is the theory of conditioning. That is that a person “learns” that something is to be feared through experience. This experience may be a one off experience of may be something that is repeated. As people all have the ability to learn be that positive or negative learnings this theory fits nicely. Experiments have shown that phobias can be instilled in this way. Either the experience is in itself unpleasant or frightening or it is associated with something else that is unpleasant or frightening.

For example, if a child is repeatedly locked in a cupboard for being naughty, they are likely to be scared and may generalise this experience into a fear of small spaces. Another person may be fine with small spaces until being stuck in a lift just once. Someone else might take an experience of being unable to get out of a theatre when they needed the loo and generalise this to a fear of being trapped.

Conditioning theory also fits for some cases of social phobia in that the person learns from their experience that certain situations lead to embarrassment or rejection or some other sort of difficulty.


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