Investigating a biological preparedness account of spider phobia: Conditioned responses to spider and hymenoptera stimuli

Cochrane, Ben (2011). Investigating a biological preparedness account of spider phobia: Conditioned responses to spider and hymenoptera stimuli Honours Thesis, The School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

       
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Author Cochrane, Ben
Thesis Title Investigating a biological preparedness account of spider phobia: Conditioned responses to spider and hymenoptera stimuli
School, Centre or Institute The School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-10-12
Thesis type Honours Thesis
Supervisor Dr Kimberley Mallan
Total pages 116
Language eng
Subjects 1701 Psychology
Abstract/Summary In essence, biological preparedness models of fear and phobia rest upon two key components. First, significant sources of danger for prehistoric humans resulted in evolutionary pressures that brought about a tendency to more readily engage in fear learning with these particular objects. Second, this fear learning bias translates to an increased prevalence of phobias for these particular objects, because fear is more readily associated with them. Spiders present a unique challenge to this account as there is substantial evidence which suggests they are not very dangerous, yet spiders still display very high phobia prevalence rates. This would suggest that either evolutionary danger does not necessitate enhanced fear learning, or alternatively enhanced fear learning does not necessitate greater phobia prevalence rates. This was explored in a differential conditioning paradigm. Fifty-­six participants were randomly allocated into two groups(Spider vs. Hymenoptera) and underwent differential conditioning to greyscale photographs of either two spiders, or two Hymenoptera. Participants’ skin conductance response, eyeblink startle modulation, and evaluative ratings were used as measures of fear learning. Hymenoptera(bees and wasps) were selected as they present a similar level of danger to humans, yet do not display high rates of phobia prevalence. Results showed little evidence for resistance to extinction (an index of enhanced fear learning) for either spiders or hymenoptera. Spiders do not seem to be an evolutionarily dangerous object, thus a lack of resistance to extinction effect is compatible with biological preparedness accounts. However this finding suggests that level of fear learning does not equate to level of phobia prevalence, as spider phobia is extremely high. This was discussed in light of Rachman's(1977, 1990) three-­pathway model of fear and Davey’s (1994) disgust hypothesis.
Keyword Spider phobia
Conditional responses

 
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Created: Tue, 12 Jun 2012, 16:12:23 EST by Mrs Ann Lee on behalf of School of Psychology