better use your mind to do what you want to do. Psychologists (Moos
& Billings, 1982) have identified many coping skills; see the later
section on "How to Handle Stress." We will look deeper into the role
played by our self-confidence as a self-helper, called self-efficacy,
later in this chapter and in chapter 14.
Does thinking explain all fears and anxiety?
Cognitive theory says that intense, specific fears are not caused by
something very painful or frightening being paired with the scary
object or event (illustrated by Little Albert in chapter 4) nor is some
vague or unconscious anxiety the source of a phobia. As we have
seen, the cognitive explanations of unrealistic fears and anxiety are (a)
that the perceived threat somehow becomes greatly exaggerated or
(b) our capacity to deal with the threat is seen as very inadequate or
(c) both. That is, we are saying, "This situation is horrible" and/or "I
can't handle it."
It certainly is true that one doesn't have to have a traumatic
experience to acquire a specific phobia or intense chronic anxiety. Yet,
as already mentioned, basic learning principles could produce a phobia
or serious anxiety without a painful trauma being involved. More
examples: just imagining thousands of times making a fool of yourself
by making comments in class can create a fear of speaking up in class.
Avoiding approaching interesting people for years can make it too
scary to do. Moreover, cognitive psychology still has no clear
explanation of why the mind of a claustrophobic person exaggerates
the ideas of suffocating, being trapped and closed in, and loosing
control, while another person suffering from panic attacks fears open
spaces and is convinced that heart palpitations means he/she is having
a fatal heart attack. What makes the mind of a person with a fear of
flying jump to the conclusion that a crash is imminent? (Maybe
because his/her emotional system, based in part on non-cognitive
conditioning, is responding like crazy, in spite of what the logical part
of the mind is telling him/her.)
In any case, while the Social Learning theorists make a lot out of
self-efficacy, it is no surprise that a person terrified by a large snake
will say "I can't get close to that snake," and that this behavioral
prediction is accurate. So what, if ratings of self-efficacy correlate
remarkably well with actual behavior? Does that prove thoughts
produce the fears? No, it's probably the other way around. Most people
simply have a good idea of how well they can handle a situation. I'm
pretty sure self-efficacy does not explain all behavior, but building our
feelings of self-efficacy is surely one of our better methods for gaining
some control over our lives.
This three way connection between (1) appraising the
dangerousness of a situation, (2) evaluating our ability to handle the
situation, and (3) responding with fear or confidence in that situation
doesn't provide us with a complete scientific explanation of a phobia!
How and why does the belief develop that this harmless snake will hurt