Psychological Self-Help

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may not develop if you are able to deny that the UCS (the root canal)
was awful, in the same way the dying person denies he/she will die.
Various mental strategies help us neutralize a threat or UCS, e.g. we
minimize a stress ("Lots of people suffer more") and/or push it out of
our awareness ("Just forget about it, it isn't worth getting upset about,
think positively"). Giving people information about scary medical
procedures can reduce their fear or panic them. It is not possible to
cleanly separate conditioning from cognition. 
Operant conditioning and stress 
Obviously, some fears have payoffs, i.e. immediate positive
reinforcement. Fears of the dark get attention from parents at bedtime
or some one to hold our hand walking in the dark. A fear of dealing
with a banker or other authority may get someone else to intervene
for you. Fears may get sympathy. (Of course, many fears are fun, e.g.
hide-and-seek, the roller-coaster, the spook-house, the horror movie,
etc.) 
More often negative reinforcement is involved in fear development
(see chapter 4). Fears are self-developing if you run away from and/or
avoid the frightening situation. Let's take a fear of elevators as an
example. Suppose you have an important appointment on the 69th
floor. But you fear heights, especially in elevators. So, you get more
and more anxious as you approach the building. Walking towards the
elevator, you think of the height, the long fall and the terrible accident
if the elevator fell, and you imagine what it would be like if there were
a fire at the same time... Your mind goes crazy. You are so sweaty and
scared you can hardly push the "up" button. Then, before the elevator
opens, you say to yourself, "I'm not going through this kind of hell;
forget this." You may not even notice it, but as you walk away from
the elevator, you feel a great relief, enormous stress has been taken
away. This relief is negative reinforcement. Of what? Of what you were
just doing! Being terrified of elevators and running away. So, you will
be even more afraid of elevators in the future. 
The possibility that running away from a fear strengthens it has
important implications to all of us (beyond the old rule about climbing
back on a horse as soon as possible after being thrown). Every time in
a lecture you are unclear about something but decide not to ask about
it in class, are you learning to be afraid of asking questions? Every
time you want to talk to someone or go to a party but decide it would
be more comfortable not to do it, are you increasing your shyness or
your anxiety at the next party? This theory doesn't explain the origin
of an irrational fear, only the growth. Later in this chapter we will see
that it is usually important to expose your self to a fear, not avoid it.
Still, there is much more to understand about the care and keeping of
fears. 
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