Theprocess of classical conditioning was the first of many phenomena introduced inbehaviourist psychology in order to try and explain the many different ways inwhich behaviour can be learned – whether in the lab or natural environment.
Biological constraints of classical conditioning are all the different factorswhich affect how easily classical conditioning may occur. This is known asbiological preparedness and is the idea that as a result of our biology, certainbehaviours – which can be deemed as more ‘useful’ – are more easily learnt thanothers an example being fears of snakes can be more easily conditioned ontosomeone than a fear of a house. As this was highly discussed in earlypsychology, many behaviourists set out to investigate whether there werebiological constraints within classical conditioning. In1975, Ohman et al conducted research investigating if there was a biologicalpreparedness to develop phobias of certain objects through researching if phobiasof snakes were able to be more easily conditioned than phobias of non-fearfulstimuli such as faces or houses. In order to investigate this, Ohman et al had64 participants who were split into groups of either seeing the fear-relevantcontent such as a snake or the fear-irrelevant content of houses or flowersbefore they were each given an electric shock. Each participants skinconductance was measured in order to identify levels of fear being displayedwith higher levels of sweat meaning there was higher levels of fear beingdisplayed.
Results from this study was able to show that it was much easierto condition a fear for snakes compared to the non-fearful stimuli of a houseor face. This is evident where prior to conditioning, all participants skinconductance was similar however after conditioning, when presented with theimage of the snake, participants in this condition had an average of 0.62conductance and those in the house condition had a skin conductance rate of0.048. Along with this, after a period of time, Öhman et al were able to findthat the conditioned fear of snakes was more resistant to extinction comparedto the conditioned fear of houses or faces.
Resultsfrom this study is able to give an insight into how there may be biologicalconstraints present during classical conditioning as it is able to suggest thatwe may be biologically predisposed to acquire phobias to situations which maybe perceived as life-threatening.