Learning Experience How Someone Gets Afraid of Height

LearningExperience: How Someone Gets Afraid of Height

LearningExperience: How Someone Gets Afraid of Height

Many,if not all, children fear height because they perceive the possiblerisks of falling from a high place. From a personal experience,people already know about the possible consequences of falling from ahigh place even before they fall from a high ground or hear of otherswho have fallen from raised places. This fear becomes real when onecomes into contact with a high place. This paper will explain how onelearns acrophobia, fear of heights, using three perspectives, namelyclassical conditioning, operant conditioning, and cognitive-sociallearning perspective.

Learningthrough classical conditioning

Learningthrough classical conditioning occurs when a stimulus that happensnatural produce some unconditioned responses as well as a neutralstimulus. The neutral stimulus is then conditioned and producessimilar response to the unconditioned stimulus (Wood, Wood &ampBoyd, 2005). A neutral stimulus does not have any impact on thesubject and it does not produce any response. Conditioned stimuluscreates a reflex response when it becomes paired with the originalunconditioned stimulus. Unconditioned stimulus occurs naturally andit creates involuntary responses. This means that the combination ofthe conditioned stimulus and a neutral stimulus end up becoming whatthe subject fears. Therefore, learning through classical conditioningis achieved by bringing out some behaviors that already existsthrough reflex.

Applyingthese theoretical concepts to acrophobia or the fear of heights, theneutral stimulus is the height, while the initial thought thatfalling from high places can cause serious injuries is theunconditioned stimulus that occurs naturally. The response to theseconditions is a phobia or fear. By the time one comes into contactwith a high or a raised place, unconditioned stimulus andunconditioned response pre-exist in one’s mind. The high place orthe height itself instantly becomes a conditioned stimulus sincepreexisting stimuli coupled with the response will condition anindividual to feel afraid of the height.

Howacrophobia occurred through operant conditioning

Learningthrough operant conditioning occur when one learns a voluntarybehavior via the effects of unpleasant and peasant responses andconsequences. Under operant conditioning the learner selects a givenbehavior depending on the negative or the positive reinforcement thatis present at the time of making a decision (Wood, Wood &amp Boyd,2005). One tends to continue with a behavior that has been reinforcedwhile avoiding behaviors that are either punished or have not beenreinforced.

Inthe case of acrophobia, one’s behavior in relation to something(height) one is afraid of becomes similar to that of a consequence.The behavior of an individual will likely be to avoid an object (ahigh place) that makes one feels afraid of (Gershman &amp Niv,2012). The original circumstance, in this case the height, in whichone becomes afraid of, an initial consequence occurs, most likely afatal fall from a high place, which then initiates the behavior ofaversion to high places in fear that one might fall and get injuredagain. Reinforcement refers to what happens after one follows aresponse, which causes the response to happen again, and the responsecan be the consequence, pleasurable, negative or positive in relationto the nature of the reinforcement (Gershman &amp Niv, 2012). Sincethere is no positive reinforcement in relation to the fear of height,the fear becomes the reinforcement that one requires to proceed withthe aversion of high places.

Cognitive-sociallearning of acrophobia

Thecognitive-social theory focuses on the role of other people on one’sbehavior, which means that people learn not only on their ownbehavior, but also via the experiences of other people. People tendto act on what they have learned depending on their perception of agiven behavior as well as its consequences (Gershman &amp Niv,2012). People who learn from others do not wait to be taught beingtheir own experiences. In the case of acrophobia, one can startfearing heights after hearing or witnessing another person fallingfrom a high place and suffer from serious injuries. An individual wholearns about the possible consequences of getting into high placesbecomes paranoid about cribbing tall buildings, getting at thecliffs, or any other place that is raised.


Phobiaor fear can be learned and unlearned with time. The threeperspectives discussed in this paper confirm that acrophobia islearned like any other type of behavior, but the approach differs.The classical conditioning holds that people learn acrophobia whenpre-existing unconditioned stimuli and unconditioned responses areprovoked when one comes into contact or gets to a high place. Thismeans that one perceives the possible impact of falling from a highplace without a previous experience or learning it from anotherperson. The operant conditioning perspective, on the other hand,holds that one learns to fear acrophobia after falling from a highplace and getting injuries in the past. The cognitive-social learningapproach, on the other hand, holds that one can learn the fear ofheight by learning from the experience of other people about thedangers of falling from a high place. Therefore, an individualbecomes aware of dangers of height before coming into contact with ahigh place, but they learn it from different sources.


Gershman,J. &amp Niv, Y. (2012). Exploringa latent cause theory of classical conditioning.Madison: Psychonomic Society Inc.

Wood,E., Wood, S. &amp Boyd, D. (2005). Theworld of psychology.Boston, MA: Allyn &amp Bacon.