Subject: Psychology and Education
Language: English (U.S.)
Pages: 2
Explain how a specific phobia could be acquired through classical conditioning. Be sure to identify the unconditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, conditioned stimulus, and conditioned response in your example. Also, using classical conditioning, indicate how the phobia could be eliminated.

Psychological Science Essays

Classical Conditioning and Phobias

Classical conditioning as a process is able to offer explanations on all aspects of human psychology including the development of phobias. Phobias are irrational fears towards different stimuli in our environment. A certain series of events can trigger an irrational fear of a stimulus in an individual through classical conditioning. This is otherwise known as stimulus generalization. In this instance, an individual has a bad experience with something in his environment (environmental stimulus), which manipulates his fear, a naturally occurring reflex.

A good example of how classical conditioning can lead to a phobia is the fear of water. If you throw a child into a swimming pool, they may develop a fear of water. The child is inexperienced with swimming and the act of throwing him into the swimming pool without any preparation will cause him to have an unnatural fear of water. In this instance, the water is the environmental stimulus while the child’s irrational misgivings about water such as his ill preparedness are the naturally occurring reflex (McLeod, 2008).

However, the effects of classic conditioning on the development of phobias can be reduced over time. If the individual is exposed to the non-dangerous stimuli over time without him experiencing any harm, then the phobia can extinguish itself, a process known as extinction. For instance, if the child were to be trained on how to swim, gradually and carefully over time without any harm coming to him, this would lead to a reversal of his irrational fear of water. In this case, the conditioned stimulus is his preparedness in swimming in a swimming pool. His conditioned response is him managing his fear and swimming in the pool (the conditioned stimuli) without any fear of drowning. The water has now become conditioned stimuli as he has been exposed to the water in the swimming pool several times.

Memory and Cognition

Eyewitness testimony is often fickle and ghastly inaccurate. This is due to the subjective nature of how our brains record and store information about past events. Psychologists have long held the belief that memory recall that is relied upon by the eyewitness is often altered, biased, and is sometimes very easy to manipulate. The problem with memory recall in court is the number of times individuals will be freed from jail after a DNA test conclusively shows that the individual could not have carried out the crime. This is despite the fact that several witnesses may have seen or heard the individual committing the crime.

Another reason that eyewitness testimony is hardly relied on nowadays is the jurors’ subjectivity of the witness. Jurors will often believe the testimony of a witness who is detailed and is confident. They often correlate the accuracy of a witness’s testimony with their confidence level. This leaves little room for objectively trying to figure out the accuracy of the witness’s testimony.

The post-event misinformation effect also lowers the accuracy and credibility of eyewitness testimony in court. This effect occurs when the eyewitness hears or sees something after the incident that has the effect of influencing the memory of the said event. Thus, the memory that will be recalled in the courtroom will be severely inaccurate, as it has been altered by events after the fact (Tversky & Fisher, 2000).  

Another problem with eyewitness testimony is the likelihood that the witness did not experience the entire crime and is experiencing confirmation bias. Confirmation bias occurs when a witness does not witness the entire crime but goes further to testify about it based on what they believe would have happened.


McLeod, S. (2008). Classical Conditioning. Simple Psychology. Retrieved on 17/2/2016 from

Tversky, B., & Fisher, G. (1999). The problem with eyewitness testimony. Stanford: Stanford Journal of Legal Studies.