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Anxiety Disorders

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Conditioning and Learning

Research shows that conditioning and learning also play a role in anxiety disorders:

  • Classical conditioning: People can acquire anxiety responses, especially phobias, through classical conditioning and then maintain them through operant conditioning. A neutral stimulus becomes associated with anxiety by being paired with an anxiety-producing stimulus. After this classical conditioning process has occurred, a person may begin to avoid the conditioned anxiety-producing stimulus. This leads to a decrease in anxiety, which reinforces the avoidance through an operant conditioning process. For example, a near drowning experience might produce a phobia of water. Avoiding oceans, pools, and ponds decreases anxiety about water and reinforces the behavior of avoidance.
  • Evolutionary predisposition: Researchers such as Martin Seligman have proposed that people may be more likely to develop conditioned fears to certain objects and situations. According to this view, evolutionary history biologically prepares people to develop phobias about ancient dangers, such as snakes and heights.
  • Observational learning: People also may develop phobias through observational learning. For example, children may learn to be afraid of certain objects or situations by observing their parents’ behavior in the face of those objects or situations.
Cognitive Factors

Some researchers have suggested that people with certain styles of thinking are more susceptible to anxiety disorders than others. Such people have increased susceptibility for several reasons:

  • They tend to see threats in harmless situations.
  • They focus too much attention on situations that they perceive to be threatening.
  • They tend to recall threatening information better than nonthreatening information.
Personality Traits

The personality trait of neuroticism is associated with a higher likelihood of having an anxiety disorder.

Marketing Management / Edition 15

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5®) / Edition 5