There is much research to support the idea of preparedness in the acquisition of phobias, just like Bennett-levy and Marteau have done, however many studies use non-human animals, and use experimental research methods. Cook & Mineka (1989) found that rhesus monkeys could acquire fear through social learning to fear relevant stimuli (toy snakes and crocodiles) but not of fear-irrelevant stimuli (flowers and a toy rabbit). Subsequently, Cook & Mineka (1990), again using rhesus monkeys, showed them edited videotapes of models reacting fearfully to toy snakes and non-fearfully to artificial flowers or vice versa.
The observers only acquired a fear in the former condition, i. e. when they watched a monkey responding with fear to a snake. However, there is experimental research that shows that humans can show preparedness. Ohman and Soares (1998) showed that participants could be conditioned more quickly when associated with fear-relevant material, e. g. pictures of snakes or spiders, than when paired with fear-irrelevant material, e. g. picture of flowers or mushrooms. Again showing that fear is more readily associated with some things but not others.
Bennett-Levy and Marteau deliberately removed the idea that the animals were harmful; however is this not a reason to fear an animal? One biological imperative for fear is risk of disease. Matchett & Davey (1991) and Ware et al (1994) looked at the relationship between animal fears relating to contamination and to likelihood of attack. They investigated fear of predatory animals and other fear-relevant animals. Both groups of animals elicited fear but only the animals carrying a risk of disease also elicited disgust.
Those participants with the greatest fear of the ‘disgusting’ animals also scored highly on scales such as fear of illness and obsessive washing. Further support for this idea comes from Davey et al (1998) who conducted a cross-cultural study into animal fears. They found that, although cultures share fear for animals which are fierce, the greatest similarity was in those eliciting disgust; again indicating a link between phobias and animal-borne disease. The distinction between fear of fierce and infection-risk animals is demonstrated by experimental evidence from Davey et al (2003).
They found that people will tend to become classically conditioned to pain responses associated with predatory animals (i. e. fierce ones). Disgustrelated unconditioned stimuli, however, were more readily associated with lowpredation animals (i. e. ones with a disease risk) than with safe ones. There does seem to be reasons for fearing animals, but in the modern comfortable existence that many enjoy, there are few natural things that will damage us and we have little reason to fear, but phobias are one of the commonest disorders in our society.
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