Using classical conditioning to desensitize people to their phobias

Over the past 100 years, numerous experiments and studies were conducted to investigate classical conditioning, one of the most famous study being that of “Little Albert”, which resulted in the young boy in question being left with a strong fear towards anything which resembled a white rat. This study is a prime example of how classical conditioning can cause phobias to develop in individuals. “A phobia is an intense fear of a specific object, situation or activity” (Chong & Hovanec, 2012, p. 6). In this essay I will investigate how Classical conditioning can cause an emotional response in an individual which can then manifest itself into a phobia and how researchers have developed a technique known as systematic desensitization to help individuals overcome these phobias. Classical conditioning is a process where a neutral stimulus such as the bell in Pavlov’s study on the secretion of Saliva in dogs is paired with an unconditioned stimulus which, in the case of Pavlov’s study, was meat. Before the conditioning process occurs, the neutral stimulus does not cause the dog to salivate, but upon presentation of the neutral stimulus without the unconditioned stimulus during the conditioning trials, the dog is seen to salivate upon presentation of the bell by itself, this proves that the bell has become the conditioned stimulus. This knowledge was applied in a study conducted by Watson and Rayner in 1920 on a 9 month old boy known as “Little Albert” where a white rat was used as the unconditioned stimulus, when Little Albert tried to touch the rat a bar was struck, producing a loud noise which scared the boy, this was repeated several times until Little Albert exhibited fear upon the rat coming into view. The study proved that classical conditioning can produce a strong emotional response in individuals which can cause phobias to form. The strong emotional response produced by Albert gives an insight into how phobias can be established as a result of classical…