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Learning to Conquer a Fear

Learning Experience Timothy Bunnell 9/ 13/ 2010 Ronald Foster Abstract Before enlisting in the United States Marine Corps, I was completely terrified of flying. My fear of flying was based on sensationalizing media reports of aircraft mishaps, and the devastation they sometimes caused. Once a Marine, I was conditioned by several methods of learning to develop a love of flying. Learning Experience Fear of flying is a well known phobia and is one that many people live and deal with everyday. Media coverage of disastrous aviation mishaps has provided much fuel to continue feeding this type of fear.

Even though, statistically, flying is safer than driving as a mode of transportation, flying is still feared. Until joining the United States Marine Corps in 1995, I was terrified of flying. The first time I ever traveled by air was on my way to basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina. During this flight, I discovered two important things: I loved the feeling of flying, and I was absolutely terrified by being in the air. When I enlisted in the Marines, my job was to be a helicopter mechanic.

In the completion of my duties, I learned about the function of the aircraft, and realized that the aircraft is capable of doing amazing things, and that it is a remarkably safe aircraft. I was given the opportunity to begin flying as a crewmember when I received orders to deploy oversees in 1997. I was thrilled and terrified at the same time. I wanted to fly, but I needed to learn to control my fear of flying. Through several methods of conditioning, I was able to not only control my fear of flying; I was able to completely overcome it. Classic Conditioning

In learning to overcome my fear, I had to learn to be able to trust the aircraft, and to trust my ability to function while in the air. The thought of trying to do this in an actual flying aircraft did not seem to be the best way to handle this. In an attempt to simulate performing in flight, I was requested to train in the aircraft weapon simulator. The simulator was used by pilots to simulate the aircraft function, motion, noise, and smell while having the safety of never breaking the deck. In addition to just training in the simulator, I was given the opportunity to actually take the controls and fly the simulator.

As an avid video-gamer, this was a huge reward for me, as this was a life-sized, full motion simulator. The unconditioned stimulus in this learning experience was the sensation and thrill of flight. The unconditioned responses were the rush of excitement, the sense euphoria, and complete lack of fear. In this learning experience, I was able to develop a confidence based on training in the simulator to build up to training in the actual aircraft. It also gave me a better understanding of how the aircraft’s flight mechanics work to fly safely.

I was familiarized with the aircraft functionality as a mechanic, and through the simulator, so the fear was reduced to a point that enabled me to get into the aircraft and fly. The conditioned stimulus was flight time, and use of the simulator. The conditioned response was excitement at the prospect of flying. Operant Conditioning In addition to classical conditioning methods, I also learned from operant conditioning. The behavior that was expected was satisfactory performance as a member of the crew. I knew that in order to do this, I needed to control my fear, and work with confidence.

There were several consequences that helped to successfully develop this behavior. One of the consequences of successfully performing as a member of the crew was increased flight time. The better I performed, the more I was scheduled to fly. An additional consequence was an increase in salary by receiving flight pay. The more I flew, the more qualified I became. The more qualified I became, the more I was paid. These consequences provided positive reinforcement in the form of more money, and more flight time. This increased flight time caused an increase in the thrill I was able to receive from flying.

I wanted to continue doing well, and performing in a highly proficient and effective manner in order to continue being scheduled for flight time, and to continue receiving more money. My reinforcement came at a fixed interval in the form of a monthly pay check, and at a variable ratio in that my flight time was scheduled fairly regularly though each month, but without a weekly schedule. Because of the powerful reinforcements used to ensure good performance, there is little chance of extinction of the behavior. I am not likely to lose my confidence in flight.

Cognitive-Social Learning Cognitive learning involves being able to consider means of solving a problem, and being able to develop a plan to implement those solutions. In order to overcome my fear of flying, I needed to develop a plan based on available assets to practice flying without fear. I knew that pilots train for flight through the use of the flight simulator. I also knew that the simulator was a full motion trainer that used motion and sound to give the pilots a life like training environment from the safety of the ground.

When offered flight orders, I requested to be trained in the simulator to help overcome my fear, before I had to try training in an actual aircraft. I felt that this would give me the best chance of using a stepping stone approach to accomplish my goal of becoming a crewman. Part of my fear of flying was due to the chance of mechanic malfunction of the aircraft and the potential for a disastrous or fatal mishap. One of the tools available for use in the simulator is malfunction simulation. This function of the simulator allowed for safe practical application, and realistic effects from various types of malfunctions.

In training with other crewmen, I was able to observe their reactions to the malfunctions, and to see their confidence in handling adverse situations. According to Todd Jones (2007), people can be creative in coming up with solutions by use of cognitive mechanisms, or by imitating the behavior they see in others around them. This was true in my case as I developed methods of working through the fear by using techniques I learned through cognitive reasoning, and in repeated behavior modeled by others. Influence of Media and Prejudice on Learning The Media has long been linked to behavior.

Social culture as seen in multi-media settings often influences behavior in those around us. Consider for a moment how often one hears someone use a catch phrase made famous by a popular television show, or how people will begin to imitate the actions or mannerisms of a famous actor or character. Now, consider news media reports of disastrous events and how they change or affect public opinion. It has been suggested by Jason Young (2003) that news media agencies will intentionally sensationalize horrible events. Events such as plane crashes seem more horrible than they already are when dramatized by the evening news.

In today’s age of excessive media coverage, that same plane crash is covered by most if not all media agencies thus creating a greater sense of menacing disaster associated with the event. This type of sensationalism can greatly influence the behavior or beliefs of the people who view them. Prejudice plays an a great role on learning as well. Through our social learning, we learn from the behavior of those around us. Learning through observation of others is a cornerstone of this type of learning. It has been well documented that observing prejudice plays a large role in the development of beliefs in children.

Learning to dislike someone because of race, credd, skin color, or sex in not a natural behavior, but one that is learned from others. The same can be applied to prejudice of places or things. Many likes and dislikes are formed through observation of others. Differences in types of Learning The different forms of conditioning mentioned in this paper allow for many layers of learning, and enable for greater learning potential. Classical conditioning allows learning through stimulus and response. If A is presented, then B happens. Through the use of conditioned stimuli and responses, a behavior can be learned and maintained.

Operant conditioning occurs through external stimulus. If the behavior is met then it is reinforced through either positive or negative reinforcement. There are consequences for the behavior. If the behavior is met, and continued, then the consequences are favorable. If the behavior is not met, then the consequences are not favorable. Punishment is one of the consequences of not meeting the behavior. Punishments must be used wisely, however, or it may cause further deviation from the required behavior. Cognitive-Social conditioning involves using cognitive methods to develop solutions to problems encountered.

Those solutions help to shape one’s behavior. It also involves learning through observation of the actions of others. All of these types of conditioning involve a cause and effect to develop a behavior. Classic and Operant conditioning use some sort of reward system to continue the behavior, while Cognitive-Social conditioning is reinforced by observation or through further use of cognitive methods. Improving this Learning Experience Throughout the process of learning to overcome my fear of flying, I used all of the conditioning methods listed in this paper. There were several ways that this learning experience could have been improved.

Part of my fear of flights was a fear of heights. During the learning process, my fear of heights was never addressed. Even though I have no fear of flying, climbing a ladder can leave me in a cold sweat. I think that learning to control that portion of this fear set may have reduced the time it took to overcome the over all fear of flying. This could have been accomplished using obstacle course and confidence courses that used heights as an obstacle. Through the use of classical conditioning with conditioned stimuli and responses, I think that overcoming my fear of heights may have been accomplished relatively quickly.

Another improvement could have been used to improve the learning process would be through operant conditioning. Through the process of rewarding positive results on the obstacles, it would have reinforced success rather than fear. Conclusion The fear of lying almost robbed me of one of the most wonderful experiences that I have lived to enjoy. Through the use of several types of learning and conditioning I was able to overcome a lifetime of fear boosted by media dramatization and by social reaction to aircraft mishaps.

Through this learning experience, I can use my new skills to help others overcome their fear as well. Referrences Jason R Young. (2003). The role of fear in agenda setting by television news. The American Behavioral Scientist, 46(12), 1673. Retrieved September 12, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Complete. (Document ID: 380007431). Jones, T.. (2007). What’s Done Here-Explaining Behavior in Terms of Customs and Norms. The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 45(3), 363-393. Retrieved September 12, 2010, from ProQuest Central. (Document ID: 1427447671).

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