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Phobias and Preparedness Theory - Essay Example

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There is an evolutionary predisposition for humans to acquire fears of angry, critical, or rejecting faces. According to the preparedness theory of phobias, humans have a biologically based predisposition to fear objects or situations that once threatened the survival of the species throughout its evolutionary history…
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Phobias and Preparedness Theory
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Download file to see previous pages The gaze aversion demonstrated by individuals with social anxiety disorder also makes sense in light of preparedness theory. Direct eye contact seems to be very frightening or threatening among our close relatives, the primates. Although this response is greatly altered by contextual and learning factors among humans, experimental evidence shows that angry faces directed at the individual are highly salient. Thus, one can avoid the threat of angry, critical, or rejecting faces by looking away.
In a critical review of experimental literature, McNally posed some strong challenges to the preparedness theory of phobias. According to preparedness theory, phobias are supposed to be rapidly acquired, irrational, highly resistant to extinction, and differentially associable with stimuli of evolutionary significance. However, McNally indicated that the rate at which phobias are acquired varies widely. He also argued that phobic avoidance is not necessarily irrational in those who fear anxiety and its consequences. Thus, although socially anxious persons recognize they have no physical threat to avoid, they are avoiding the likelihood of becoming extremely anxious in encountering a feared situation.
McNally also showed that, while skin conductance responses established to fear-relevant CSs are highly resistant to extinction in laboratory conditioning, behavioral treatment research demonstrates that "prepared" phobias are eliminated at least as easily as "unprepared" ones, with fears of heights and of animals among the easiest phobias to treat through exposure therapy.
Furthermore, several alternative explanations for the experimental resistance to extinction effect need to be tested. McNally asserted that only one of the original assumptions of preparedness theory remains unaltered by the data and critical analyses: Most phobias are associated with threats of evolutionary significance. Other plausible hypotheses for experimental findings that need to be ruled out are ontogenetic (i.e., cultural) preparedness, stimulus significance (preparedness effects occur because fear-relevant stimuli are more significant than fear-irrelevant stimuli), and CS prepotency (humans are innately predisposed to respond with high levels of attention and arousal, not necessarily fear, to stimuli of evolutionary significance).
The pattern of initial vigilance for highly aversive information, followed by avoidance, is of potential clinical significance because it may promote the conditions under which sensitization, rather than extinction (or fear reduction), takes place (Marks, 1989). Consequently, it may play an important role in the maintenance of excessive fear and anxiety. If so, this suggests it would be therapeutically helpful to target specifically this subsequent cognitive avoidance because avoidant processing may impede an individual's ability to reevaluate the threat stimulus and to reappraise it as less threatening. Thus, secondary avoidance strategies may interfere with cognitive treatment interventions.
Experiments on traumatic stimulation in humans are not fully supportive of classical conditioning of fears. de P. Silva, Rachman S., & Seligman M. ( 1977) were able to condition fears in ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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