meye1536: October 2011 Archives

It is possible that you have a friend or relative who has an irrational fear, or phobia. Common phobias include mysophobia (fear of germs), arachnophobia (fear of spiders), and cynophobia (fear of dogs). You may be able to see how classical conditioning would play a role in developing those phobias. For instance, an individual might have been bit by a dog and developed the conditioned response to fear all dogs because of the fear instilled by the first dog bite. Classical conditioning explains how many phobias develop, but remember that there are other examples that seem to have started from childhood instead of classical conditioning.


In the following video, a woman claims to have been deathly afraid of clowns ever since she can remember. She suffers from coulrophobia and her anxiety causes severe panic attacks.

This woman admits that she will not go to the circus and avoids any interactions with her fear. This is an example of negative reinforcement, in which she removes the stimulus of anxiety, which makes her more likely to avoid being in the presence of a clown. By using negative reinforcement, this woman was, and many other people who suffer from phobias are operantly conditioning themselves to enable their phobias to continue and influence their daily life. By facing fears and attending therapy sessions, one may be able to eliminate their phobia, but many people continue to enable their life of fear through negative reinforcement.

"Realistic perceptional experiences in the absence of any external stimuli," is how Liliendeld defines hallucinations. Brain scans during visual hallucinations have reported that the visual cortex becomes active, just as it would if it were actually processing visual stimuli. 138_dilatingeyedrops2.jpgDuring a hallucinogenic drug-induced trip, pupils become extremely dilated, as seen above.

There are several causes of hallucinations; for example, lack of sleep and mental illness have been linked to hallucinations. According to Wolfe and Pruitt, after four days of severe sleep deprivation may cause hallucinations. Drug use, such as acid or psilocybin (found in "magic" mushrooms) also causes users to hallucinate. In some cultures, hallucinations are viewed as gifts or religious/spiritual communication. Many who believe this try to induce such "trips" through prayer, fasting, or drug usage.

CNN aired a video of a 50's housewife who voluntarily took Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (acid) under a controlled study. The hospital where the experiment was held was considering hallucinogenic drugs as a form of psychotherapy. The experimenters thought that the psychedelic experience would help the users to become more spiritual, to come to a better understanding of themselves, and possibly treat those suffering from depression or addiction.

When the video above was filmed, the hallucinogenic drugs used were legal. Now that they have been made illegal, the effects of taking such drugs would presumably be more harmful than helpful. In some cases, flashbacks occur, which can persist and cause significant distress or impairment in social or occupational situations. A condition called hallucinogen-induced persisting perceptual disorder, also known as "perma-tripping" can also occur. Many individuals who suffer from HPPD cannot maintain normal relationships or careers and do not function well in society.

Because of the possible negative effects, inducing hallucinations through the use of drugs in individuals that are struggling to come to terms with themselves or that suffer from addiction/depression would likely be a poor choice. Looking at HPPD and how it makes fulfilling a "normal" life extremely difficult, it would more likely have negative effects on individuals who are seeking help rather than benefit them. Hallucinations involved with drugs had the potential to be a very dangerous form of psychotherapy, but the risks had been noted and the drugs were made illegal.

To many, not feeling pain would be ideal; However, to individuals with pain insensitivity, the inability to feel pain threatens their safety as well as their life. Normally, the somatosensory system (the body's system that senses touch, temperature, and pain) would react to dangerous stimuli applied to the skin by producing the sensation of pain in order to warn the individual of the harm being done to their body. In contrast, a person who suffers from pain insensitivity does not have a normal somatosensory system to protect them from damaging their body.skinandnerves.png
In the figure above, you can see that the skin contains both specialized and free nerve endings that detect pressure, temperature, and pain. For example, the Pacinian corpuscle is specialized for sensing deep pressure and the Meissner's corpuscle is specialized for lighter touch. Sensing pain and temperature is done by the free nerve endings. Normally, if the free nerve endings detected pain, they would send a message to the brain that travels through the spinal cord. This activates spinal reflexes that pull body parts away from the object causing the pain to prevent further damage to the body. Unfortunately, as you will soon see in a video, the somatosensory system of people with pain insensitivity does not work properly and everyday activities may become life threatening.

The video talks of Gabby, a young girl who suffers from hereditary sensory autonomic neuropathy, which inhibits sensation. Her condition puts her in extreme danger of hurting herself. As a baby, she chewed her fingers and tongue until they bled and her parents were encouraged to have her baby teeth removed to prevent her from biting them off completely, as some children with this condition do. She must wear goggles at all times because she has problems with scratching her eyes, which caused blindness in one of them. Without a functioning somatosensory system, your life is a constant struggle for safety.

The video gives a visual of how serious pain insensitivity is. Without pain, your appendix could burst and kill you without giving any signs that something may be wrong. In reality, the ideal life without pain would be a life-long curse of severely damaging your body and possibly death. Pain insensitivity could cause premature death by something treatable in people with functioning sensory nerves. Though nobody enjoys the sensation of pain, it is incredibly important and keeps us both safe and healthy.

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