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Operant Conditioning: Phobias

Although classical conditioning can explain why we develop a phobia, it struggles to explain why our phobias do not decay (extinguish) over time. According to operant conditioning, phobias can be negatively reinforced. This is where a behaviour is strengthened, because an unpleasant consequence is removed. For example, if a person with a phobia of dogs sees a dog whilst out walking, they might try to avoid the dog by crossing over the road. This avoidance reduces the person’s feelings of anxiety and negatively reinforces their behaviour, making the person more likely to repeat this behaviour (avoidance) in the future.

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