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Title: The effects of cultural influences and personal state on electrodermal orienting responses to phobic stimuli
Author: Kartsounis, Loucas-Demos
Awarding Body: University of London
Current Institution: Royal Holloway, University of London
Date of Award: 1982
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Seligman's theory that phobias are biologically prepared associations is challenged on theoretical and empirical grounds. It is argued that a concept of experiential preparedness may be more useful for approaching the problem of selectivity in phobias. The experimental part of the thesis pursues this argument by investigating the magnitude and habituation of electrodermal orienting responses (ORs) to words denoting ontogenetically fear-relevant (phobic) or neutral stimuli. In experiment 1 no differences between the ORs to moderately feared and neutral stimuli were found. In experiment 2 subjects were presented with stimuli as in experiment 1 and were threatened by electric shock; the phobic stimuli then elicited larger and more slowly habituating ORs than the neutral stimuli. In the following three experiments, subjects were presented with stimuli they reported as not feared but of which the majority of their peers reported substantial fears. In experiment 3 there was no manipulation of the state of the subject, in experiment 4 subjects were under threat of shock, and in experiment 5 they anticipated pleasant music. Only in experiment 4 did subjects show larger and more slowly habituating ORs to phobic than neutral stimuli. In the last two experiments, pleasant stimuli were administered while subjects anticipated shock or music. On the whole, no differences in ORs to pleasant and neutral stimuli were found under either of the two conditions. The results suggest that the OR is not simply linked to the detection of stimulus change or significance and depends on the state of the subject, with stimuli known to be associated with fear taking precedence in processing when subjects anticipate threat. As phobias are assumed to be learned responses and the OR has important implications for learning it is concluded that phobic responses towards stimuli feared in the culture may be formed when people perceive the future as threatening and unpredictable.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Social Psychology