Observational Learning, Classical and Operant Conditioning in Treating Phobias

Updated February 18, 2022

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Observational Learning, Classical and Operant Conditioning in Treating Phobias essay

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Glossophobia or the fear of public speaking is an incredibly common phobia that affects up to seventy-five percent of the population. An individual can contract this phobia from any means. The fear of public speaking can in fact take over one’s mind before even having had a bad experience with pubic speaking (Marinho, Medeiros, Lima, Pantuza, & Teixeira, 2019).

This is because public speaking comes with anticipatory anxiety or the fear of what could happen once one goes up to speak. In this case, Bill, a 28-year-old employee must conduct weekly speeches, yet avoids such do to his fears. I must try to use inference to understand and analyze the trigger for Bill’s fear of public speaking and ways in which to resolve his fears. There are three potential ways in which he could have induced this fear: operational (stimulus-response consequence), classical (CS-UCS-UCR-CR), or observational. Additionally, through the analysis of interference this researcher will uncover the background to Bill’s fears. Furthermore, the process of extinction and cognitive theory will be explored as to how they could assist in Bill’s recovery.

Phobia Development

Phobia’s are developed in a multitude of ways all of which revolve around three distinct forms Classical conditioning, Operant conditioning, or Observational learning. In Bill’s case, he feared and avoided public speaking all through out his educational life and he is now in a position at his workplace in which he must give weekly public speeches (Kahlon, Lindner, & Nordgreen, 2019). Operant Conditioning is a type of learning in which behaviors are fashioned in a way to occur more or less likely in the future. Classical conditioning pairs a neutral stimulus with a response, while operant conditioning utilizes outcomes to control future behavior and fears.

Observational learning is just as it says, learned from observing (Marinho, Medeiros, Lima, Pantuza, & Teixeira, 2019). In Bill’s case, he has a combination of ways in which he could have developed his phobia of public speaking. Within his educational background he would have been open to the world of public speaking; seeing it very often. He took his observations of others, his own experiences, and his cognitive thoughts to a point in which he developed a fear that controls him. Given that speech anxiety is quite common, he most likely shared his fears of speaking with others in college. Additionally, he would have watched many people give public speeches, watching some do well, while others failed.

Communicating one’s ideas clearly and publicly can cause anxiety in the best of us. Additionally, in Bill’s cases, ppublic speaking is essential for his job to be done to completion. This in and of itself can cause increased anxiety; as he is looked at to be efficient in speaking. Via many means of causation, Bill has found himself in a difficult spot in which he needs to find a way to ease his anxieties and be able to perform his duties at work. Such is likely to ease itself through both the process of extinction and cognitive theory; which will be further explored.

The Process of Extinction

The process of extinction is the disappearance of a formerly acquired behavior when the behavior provides no reinforcement; be it negative or positive. While the process of extinction can appear in all forms of behavioral conditioning, it is most likely found in operant conditioning (Kahlon, Lindner, & Nordgreen, 2019). In the operant conditioning concept, extinction involves the process of taking away the reinforcement, which would be the fear of failure (Thorpe, 1995). Additionally, Bill’s fears of what may happen if he gives a speech could be abundant. He may fear the way he sounds, and moves is not up to par. He may fear that the information that he has prepared will not be good enough for his audience.

The fears in which Bill has created in his mind are all just that, created ideas of what may occur if he gives a speech. Therefore, by taking away the bad results of a speech, he can help to ease himself into anxiety free speaking at work. Such would be done through practice, preparation, and continued use of speaking publicly. As Bill progresses in his abilities to prepare a speech and give such, he will undoubtably lose the fear over time and gain confidence (Marinho, Medeiros, Lima, Pantuza, & Teixeira, 2019). When Bill sees that the negative outcomes have been taken away, the fear can become extinct within his mind and his environment.

Inference and Research

Through this researcher’s inference and research, I personally feel as though Bill is much like the rest of society, as the fear of public speaking ranks high at the top of fears for the entire population. The fear of speaking typically develops early on in life when speeches or presentations begin in elementary school. Given that elementary school students lack all of the necessary foundations for giving a good speech, it is sad to say that many do so with embarrassment to follow.

Given that embarrassing presentations and speeches are given in childhood, one can see where the fear begins to generate (Kahlon, Lindner, & Nordgreen, 2019). Whether Bill himself gave an embarrassing speech as a child or watched them, he picked up on a fear that is observational. By associating public speaking or presenting as negative, Bill also picked up on classical conditioning; associating an involuntary response and a stimulus (Thorpe, 1995).

He pointblank sees such as negative, with a negative outcome; which can be fearful. Furthermore, operant conditioning also plays a role as giving the speech is involuntary (it is forced), and the consequences of the speech tend to yield negative results in Bill’s mind. Essentially, Bill have developed a traumatic fear of the would’s, could’s, and should’s that come with a public speech. However, through the proper use of extinction and cognitive theory such can be relieved.

Cognitive Theory

Social cognitive theory is a concept associated to cognitive theory. Therapists and those alike, utilize cognitive theory to treat phobias and many other psychological disorders. The primary focus of cognitive theory is to learn how we each model our behavior after others. This theory concentrates on an induvial, in this case Bill, and the thoughts that determine Bill’s emotions and behavior (Marinho, Medeiros, Lima, Pantuza, & Teixeira, 2019). Given that our thoughts and responses to our environments make sense within our own world views, one can see how thoughts and beliefs can alter one’s behavior. In Bill’s case, he watched many people throughout his lifetime give speeches; some failed and some did not.

However, his fear of public speaking comes from his own deeply rooted insecurities that spawned from years of watching others and himself give speeches with bad outcomes. Such can be altered, as in his thought process can be changed with cognitive theory. A therapist or someone similar can help Bill using cognitive theory, and by helping to alter Bill’s deeply rooted fears about public speaking. According to cognitive theory, irrational reactions are the consequence of automatic thoughts and inaccurate beliefs (Thorpe, 1995). Through the use of cognitive reframing, a therapist can aid Bill in examining his beliefs in a healthier way. By doing so, in time, a therapist would be able to ease Bill out of the fear of public speaking and unto the light.


Phobias are abundant within our general population, especially the fear of public speaking. As noted, the most popular therapy for treating phobias is through the use of cognitive behavioral therapy and extinction. Phobia’s are developed in a multitude of ways all of which revolve around three distinct forms Classical conditioning, Operant conditioning, or Observational learning.

In the case of Bill, the employee with the fear of weekly public speaking, his chances of being able to recover are good. Bill’s fears are due to his own cognitive processing and beliefs about consequences that are unfounded. Many phobias are irrational, and in the case of public speaking it is common for individuals to stretch the truth on what may occur if they speak. Public speaking in and of itself is not what is feared. What is feared is what will happen if one gives the speech. These fears are learned and conjured, equally. However, such is curable and treatable with the proper help; as rapid approaches for dealing with phobias exist.

Observational Learning, Classical and Operant Conditioning in Treating Phobias essay

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Observational Learning, Classical and Operant Conditioning in Treating Phobias. (2021, Jun 18). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/observational-learning-classical-and-operant-conditioning-in-treating-phobias/


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