Classical conditioning Anxiety is natural disorder of fear, nervousness and worrying about certain things or events. It is very common to have anxiety and phobia. Most of the population fear of dentist and that is why some people don’t look forward to dental appointments any more than they look forward to visits to a physician. Per Colgate “It has been estimated that 9% to 15% of Americans avoid seeing the dentist because of anxiety and fear. That’s about 30 million to 40 million people. In a survey by the British Dental Health Foundation, 36% of those who didn’t see a dentist regularly said that fear was the main reason.”
Anxiety that is produced because of an actual situation (e.g. being in the dentist’s chair getting a tooth drilled) can become associated to events that surround the incident even when the component that originally activated the fear (a noisy drill that results in pain) is no longer present. For example, just sitting in the dentist chair while having fluoride treatment may end up evoking the same level of anxiety as when having drilling done. This process is known as conditioning.
Conditioning is a type of learning process in which the person is conditioned to think or learns to associate the painful drill with, for example, the dentist chair or with the dentist’s office or maybe even with the suburb in which the dentist’s practice resides. In such cases fear ends up being evoked by the chair or office or related suburb in the absence of any tooth drilling.
Such conditioning, known as classical conditioning, was first demonstrated by Pavlov and is defined as being the repeated pairing of a neutral stimulus (e.g., a stimulus which by itself has no real meaning or is neutral, for example the dentist’s chair, dentist’s office or dentist’s practice location) with an unconditioned stimulus (e.g., a stimulus which has meaning naturally or innately in its capacity to produce a response, for example pain).
The unconditioned stimulus of pain might end up producing a response of anxiety because of the pain experienced. The two stimuli of 1) the dentist’s chair, dentist’s office or dentist’s practice location and 2) pain, end up being associated in a person’s mind when the neutral stimulus becomes conditioned to (or is learnt to be associated with) the unconditioned stimuli.
In this case, the person would now associate the neutral stimuli of the dentist chair, dentist office or dentist practice location with pain thereby potentially being at risk of experiencing anxiety in anticipation of the pain when entering the dentist’s practice location, the dentist’s office, or the dentist chair, even if pain was no longer the result.
Neutral stimulus =Dental office Conditioned stimulus=Dentist’s office
Unconditioned Response= Anxiety Conditioned Response=Anxiety