Classical Conditioning

A phobia is an unreasonable, uncontrollable fear of a given object or situation and can develop in a variety of ways, including conditioning. 

Phobias can be acquired through classical conditioning by pairing a neutral stimulus with something that really causes pain.   Phobia responses can be permanent unless the organism is subjected to the extinction process.   In the extinction process, one must confront the fear without the presence of the unconditioned stimulus.   For example, in Watson’s experiment, Little Albert developed a phobia of white rats (and other furry objects) as a result of pairing the white rat with a loud bang.  The phobia could have been extinguished by repeatedly exposing Little Albert to the white rat without the loud bang.   Another way to extinguish a phobia is through counter conditioning.  In counter conditioning, the conditioned stimulus is paired with a pleasant stimulus.   Little Albert could have extinguished his phobia of the white rat by pairing it with something pleasant (e.g., food, praise).  

Phobias can be acquired through operant conditioning by reinforcement.   Phobias can be learned through operant conditioning by repeatedly reinforcing avoidance of a mildly fearful situation.   For example, if a person has a mild fear of flying and his/her spouse agrees to drive instead of fly, the person's fear of flying has been reinforced and may develop into a phobia.

  Phobias can be maintained by operant conditioning through negative reinforcement.  When a person is confronted with the object or situation of his/her phobia, the person tends to get anxious and avoid the object or situation.   The anxiety is reduced, but by avoiding the object or situation, the avoidance behavior is negatively reinforced and the phobia is maintained.  For example, a person who has a phobia of flying, will maintain that phobia until he/she flies.


Phobia Feared Object or Situation
Acrophobia Fear of heights
Aerophobia Fear of flying
Agoraphobia  Fear of open spaces, public places
Amaxophobia Fear of vehicles, driving
Arachnephobia Fear of spiders
Carcinophobia Fear of cancer
Claustrophobia Fear of closed spaces
Dementophobia Fear of insanity
Genophobia Fear of sex
Monophobia  Fear of being alone
Mysophobia Fear of dirt and germs
Numerophobia Fear of numbers
Nyctophobia Fear of darkness, night
Phasmophobia Fear of ghosts
Phobophobia Fear of phobias
Pyrophobia Fear of fire
Thanatophobia Fear of death
Triskaidekaphobia Fear of the number 13
Zoophobia Fear of animals

This page is Bobby Approved

Bobby Approved

Operant Conditioning 


Ivan Pavlov
John B. Watson
B.F. Skinner