The Psychology of Phobias

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A phobia is defined as a type of anxiety disorder that causes an extreme or irrational fear of something. The most common phobias include the fear of snakes, heights, germs, thunder/lightning and small spaces. An estimated 19 million Americans have at least one phobia, with many having multiple. As of 2018, no one knows the exact reason why these fears develop, but experts have come up with three major theories.

The first theory, created by Sigmund Freud is called the Psychoanalytic Theory. It suggests that people have unconscious impulses or thoughts that cause conflict between the three parts of the human personality, which are the id, superego and ego. The id part of the mind consists of the inherited components of the personality and emotions. The superego holds learned morals and values, along with feelings like shame and guilt. Lastly, the ego is the conscious (waking) and decision making part of the mind. If something does not seem right, then the ego will try to fix it using coping mechanisms, such as repression and sublimation. When a bad memory, thought, or event is repressed the mind will pass that anxiety onto something that is often smaller, resulting in a phobia. To sum it up, the feared object is not the root cause of the anxiety. Today, this theory is not as popular as it was many years ago.

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The second theory is called the learning theory. The learning theory is very broad and includes many theories of behavior centered around the learning process. This can be found in the work of Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner who introduced conditioning that occurs through interaction with the environment.

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