Phobias are fears that are strong enough and pervasive enough to have severe debilitating effects on ones daily life. For example, snake phobias prevent people from holding a variety of jobs and from enjoying many kinds of recreational activities. Phobias and fears are learned by direct contact, inappropriate generalization, and especially by observational experiences (Bandura, 1986). They are difficult to extinguish because the phobic person shnply avoids the threatening object. Unless the fearsome object is somehow encountered the phobia will endure indefinitely.
Bandura (1986) credits television and other news media for generating many of our fears. Well-publicized rapes, armed robberies, or murders can terrorize a community, caushig people to live more confined lives behind locked doors. Most people have never been raped robbed or intentionally injured; yet many live in fear of being criminally assaulted. Violent crhnhial acts that seem random and unpredictable are most likely to instigate phobic reactions.
Once established phobias are maintained by consequent determinants: that is, the negative reinforcement the phobic person receives for avoidhig the fear-producing situation. For example, if people expect to receive aversive experiences (being mugged) while walking through the city park, they will reduce their feeling of threat by not entering the park or even going near it. In this example, dysfunctional (avoidance) behavior is produced and maintained by the mutual interaction of people s expectancies (belief that they will be mugged), the external environment (the city park), and behavioral factors (then prior experiences with fear).
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