Beyond acrophobia, Menzies and Clarke are conducting research into the
nature of phobias in general.Prevailing theories state that phobics are
aware of the inappropriateness of their fears.People suffering from
different phobias supposedly have the capacity to accurately gauge levels
of danger.More importantly, they know that their fears are unrealistic
and exaggerated.Despite this awareness, however, phobics are unable to
control their fears in relation to the lack of danger in their situation.
This theory regarding phobias has been upheld by the American Psychiatric
Association (APA) and is one of the few pronouncements regarding phobias
However, this belief has also been challenged by theorists like Beck
and Emery (1985).Beck and Emery hypothesize that while phobics have an
accurate assessment of danger in the beginning, this assessment gets
distorted as the subjects encounter the object of their fear.People who
were afraid of heights gave fairly low danger ratings while on the ground.
However, their perceptions of danger went up as they went higher up the
building.The Beck and Emery study thus throws doubt on the APA
pronouncements regarding how phobics consistently perceive the possibility
of falling and of any danger in general.
A study conducted by Williams and Watson (1985) goes further, stating
that the danger perceptions of phobics are already distorted prior to
encountering the fear stimulus.In this study, the authors were told that
they would assess their danger expectancies as they ascended a building,
looking down from a balcony.Williams and Watson found that the
acrophobics already had a high expectation of falling even before the
experiment was started.These findings challenge both the APA and the Beck
and Emery studies, showing that the phobics’ perceptions of danger
regarding their fear stimulus are distorted from the beginning….

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