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What Causes a PhobiaConditioning By Association, Conditioning By Avoidance, Expressing Unconscious Desires, Trauma, Many More TheoriesLearning to Be Afraid

Because so many different kinds of phobias exist, it can seem as though they would have little in common. However, a fear of water, a fear of public speaking, and agoraphobia—as different as they appear—may have similar causes. Although the feared object, activity, or situation may change from one person to another, the underlying causes of the fear may actually be the same or very similar.

Psychiatrists do not all agree on what causes a phobia, and they have proposed many different theories. Behavioral psychology, which focuses on the causes of behavior and how behavior interacts with the environment, has proposed the most promising theory.

Learning to Be Afraid

Many behavioral psychologists believe that phobias are behaviors that have been learned over time. A person learns to be afraid of an object or event because he connects feelings of fear, anxiety, and tension with that object or event. This process happens in two ways: conditioning by association and conditioning by avoidance.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaPhobias