Classical Conditioning and Ethics

Many behaviorists believe that phobias are an example of classical conditioning. According to Terry (2009), what is required to produce a phobia is a UCS that produces a strong emotional reaction, pain, for example, and a situation where that UCS can become associated with a neutral stimulus. For example, say you were bitten by a dog when you were a child: If that anxiety response carries over from that particular dog to all dogs then the result would be that you would become anxious every time you saw a dog.

In short, you would have developed a phobia. “In humans, classical conditioning can account for such complex phenomena as an individual’s emotional reaction to a particular song or perfume based on a past experience with which it is associated; the song or perfume is a CS that elicits a pleasant emotional response because it was associated with a friend in the past.

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Classical conditioning is also involved in many different types of fears or phobias, which can occur through generalization” (2004).

Referring back to the first paragraph, the phobia developed from being bitten by a dog in your childhood follows you throughout your life and arises each time you encounter a dog similar to the one that bit you; this is called generalization. I am afraid of big dogs and this is because I was bitten by a Rottweiler when I was 12 years old. I remember the pain and fear I felt then and it causes me to become anxious, nervous, or uncomfortable (to say the least), when I am around other “big” dogs, regardless of their breed.

There are several ways to use the principles of classical conditioning to reverse phobic symptoms. Classical conditioning can be used to change inappropriate responses. This can be done, using one of three methods as outlined by the Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology in 2004: Clinical Treatment- Behavior therapy, based on the principles of classical conditioning, has been used to eliminate or replace behavior, to eliminate the emotional responses of fear and anxiety, and as treatment for nocturnal enuresis, alcoholism, and so on.

Systematic Desensitization Therapy- As behavioral methods developed over time, a behavior therapy technique called systematic desensitization was devised based broadly on the classical conditioning model. Undesirable responses, such as phobic fear reactions, can be counterconditioned by the systematic desensitization technique. This technique inhibits expressions of fear by encouraging clients to face the feared CS and thus allowing extinction to occur.

In systematic desensitization, anxiety is associated with a positive response, usually relaxation. Systematic desensitization is a procedure in which the patient is gradually exposed to the phobic object; training in progressive relaxation is an effective and efficient treatment for phobias. Implosive (Flooding) Therapy- One approach to treating phobias with classical conditioning was originally called implosive therapy (flooding). It is used to extinguish the conditioned fear response by presenting the CS alone, repeatedly, and intensely.

The phobic individual experiences the CS, and all the conditioned fear is elicited, but no aversive US follows, nothing bad happens to the subject in the presence of the CS, and so the conditioned fear of the CS disappears. Furthermore, undesirable responses can be extinguished by presenting the conditioned stimulus without the unconditioned stimulus, eventually causing the conditioned response to disappear. Another method involves the use of counter-conditioning. This is when more desirable responses are conditioned to offset the inappropriate conditioned responses.

Which ethical standards did Watson and Rayner violate? Principle B: Fidelity and Responsibility Psychologists establish relationships of trust with those with whom they work. They are aware of their professional and scientific responsibilities to society and to the specific communities in which they work. Psychologists uphold professional standards of conduct, clarify their professional roles and obligations, accept appropriate responsibility for their behavior, and seek to manage conflicts of interest that could lead to exploitation or harm.

Psychologists consult with, refer to, or cooperate with other professionals and institutions to the extent needed to serve the best interests of those with whom they work. They are concerned about the ethical compliance of their colleagues’ scientific and professional conduct. Psychologists strive to contribute a portion of their professional time for little or no compensation or personal advantage. Principle C: Integrity Psychologists seek to promote accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness in the science, teaching, and practice of psychology.

In these activities psychologists do not steal, cheat, or engage in fraud, subterfuge, or intentional misrepresentation of fact. Psychologists strive to keep their promises and to avoid unwise or unclear commitments. In situations in which deception may be ethically justifiable to maximize benefits and minimize harm, psychologists have a serious obligation to consider the need for, the possible consequences of, and their responsibility to correct any resulting mistrust or other harmful effects that arise from the use of such techniques. Principle E: Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity

Psychologists respect the dignity and worth of all people, and the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination. Psychologists are aware that special safeguards may be necessary to protect the rights and welfare of persons or communities whose vulnerabilities impair autonomous decision making. Psychologists are aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role differences, including those based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status and consider these factors when working with members of such groups.

Psychologists try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on those factors, and they do not knowingly participate in or condone activities of others based upon such prejudices. Does the ends justify the means? Explain your answer. Although a significant amount of knowledge was gained through this experiment, I do not believe the benefit outweighed the harm and in no way does the end justify the means. It is unknown how this experiment affected little Albert (1920) later in his life.

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Classical Conditioning and Ethics. (2017, Mar 12). Retrieved December 6, 2019, from https://newyorkessays.com/essay-classical-conditioning-and-ethics/
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