process of classical conditioning was the first of many phenomena introduced in
behaviourist psychology in order to try and explain the many different ways in
which behaviour can be learned – whether in the lab or natural environment.
Biological constraints of classical conditioning are all the different factors
which affect how easily classical conditioning may occur. This is known as
biological preparedness and is the idea that as a result of our biology, certain
behaviours – which can be deemed as more ‘useful’ – are more easily learnt than
others an example being fears of snakes can be more easily conditioned onto
someone than a fear of a house. As this was highly discussed in early
psychology, many behaviourists set out to investigate whether there were
biological constraints within classical conditioning.
1975, Ohman et al conducted research investigating if there was a biological
preparedness to develop phobias of certain objects through researching if phobias
of snakes were able to be more easily conditioned than phobias of non-fearful
stimuli such as faces or houses. In order to investigate this, Ohman et al had
64 participants who were split into groups of either seeing the fear-relevant
content such as a snake or the fear-irrelevant content of houses or flowers
before they were each given an electric shock. Each participants skin
conductance was measured in order to identify levels of fear being displayed
with higher levels of sweat meaning there was higher levels of fear being
displayed. Results from this study was able to show that it was much easier
to condition a fear for snakes compared to the non-fearful stimuli of a house
or face. This is evident where prior to conditioning, all participants skin
conductance was similar however after conditioning, when presented with the
image of the snake, participants in this condition had an average of 0.62
conductance and those in the house condition had a skin conductance rate of
0.048. Along with this, after a period of time, Öhman et al were able to find
that the conditioned fear of snakes was more resistant to extinction compared
to the conditioned fear of houses or faces.
from this study is able to give an insight into how there may be biological
constraints present during classical conditioning as it is able to suggest that
we may be biologically predisposed to acquire phobias to situations which may
be perceived as life-threatening.