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Psychopathology – Contextualising Abnormality

3. Learning Theory Explanations for Phobias

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In this lecture, we think about learning theory explanations for phobias, focusing in particular on: (i) how phobias can be acquired through classical conditioning and observing others’ responses to potentially fear-inducing stimuli; (ii) the preparedness theory, which seeks to explain why people are more likely to develop fears of certain things than others, after a negative experience; (iii) neo-conditioning theory, which proposes that fears can develop by learning the negative link between two things or events; (iv) modern learning theory, which considers phobias as formulated by four characteristics: selectivity to evolutionary threats, autonomy in its development, resistance to cognitive influence, and having specific neurology.


In this course, Dr Ayoub Bouguettaya (University of Birmingham) explores the concepts of abnormality, phobias, and psychopathy. In the first lecture, we define abnormality and discuss how social norms, adequate functioning, harm to others, and statistical prevalence play a role in understanding it as a concept. In the second lecture, we consider the characteristics of phobias and how we define them as abnormal. In the third lecture, we look at learning explanations for the acquisition of phobias. Next, we think about behavioural explanations and treatments. In the fifth lecture, we discuss how psychopathy presents itself as an expression of abnormality across a breadth of social interactions, and how that can be reflected in language. The sixth and final lecture summarises the content from the course and reflects on how this can inform our understanding of these concepts going forward.


Dr Ayoub Bouguettaya is a lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham. Dr Bouguettaya’s research interests are in social psychology and how knowledge from that field can be applied to others, particularly health, including how we can apply social identity theory to societal problems, as well as investigating the different perspectives one might take on those issues. Some of Dr Bouguettaya’s recent publications include 'The relationship between gambling advertising and gambling attitudes, intentions and behaviours: a critical and meta-analytic review' (2020) and 'The Effect of a Food Addiction Explanation Model for Weight Control and Obesity on Weight Stigma' (2020).

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APA style

Bouguettaya, A. (2022, February 16). Psychopathology – Contextualising Abnormality - Learning Theory Explanations for Phobias [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Bouguettaya, A. "Psychopathology – Contextualising Abnormality – Learning Theory Explanations for Phobias." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 16 Feb 2022,

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