Running Head: DENTIST AVOIDANCE
Dentist Avoidance Behavior
In general, I am a well- adjusted and well-functioning person, but I have a serious behavior problem (dentist avoidance behavior) that is under control of conditioned stimuli. As far back as I can remember, I tried my hardest, by any and all means possible, to avoid going to the dentist. As a teenager, I would sabotage and miss my appointments and as an adult I simply avoid dentists even if I really need to go. This avoidance behavior applies to everything dentist related. For example, one time while at a party, I actually tried to avoid one guest who was a dentist, but it is a conditioned behavior, as I can track down when exactly it all started.
As a child, I had no fear of dentists and did not have any avoidance behaviors. In fact, I had good teeth and did not have to go to the dentist. Then my parents decided that it was time for some annual exams and dental work. They made an appointment and brought me to the dentist office. Everything was fine, the dentist, his office, the chair, and the visit itself were still completely benign stimuli at this point. According to classical conditioning, once these stimuli are paired with an unconditioned response, like pain, fear, and so forth, they become conditioned stimuli and start controlling one’s behavior, like in my case.
Sadly, for me, that day at the dentist office I got an extremely painful procedure, where the anesthetic shot was very painful and the drilling was even worse. The dentist told me to not be a “cry baby” and the dental assistant held me in the chair as I literally tried to run away. Needless to say, I was deeply traumatized that day and as a result acquired intense fear and anxiety toward anything dentist related. The chair, dental office and the dentist itself became conditioned stimuli for me.
One important thing about classical conditioning, that distinguishes it from operant conditioning is that it needs only one trial or occurrence (in cases involving pain, for example), and the conditioning process is complete. In my case, all that it took was a single painful visit to the dentist that resulted in intense fear of dentists, and strong avoidance behavior toward to everything dentist related.
Research indicates that dentist avoidance behavior is widespread in the general population and is seen worldwide. For example, in Iceland, around 10% of surveyed adults have a fear of dentists and show avoidance behaviors, while in Japan, the percentage is much higher and reaches over 41% (Carter et al., 2014).
What is particularly interesting is that fear of dentists and dentist avoidance behavior is most commonly acquired through classical conditioning, where the extent of trauma during the visit when conditioning occurred actually shares a lot in common with dentist avoidance behavior. According to Carter et al. (2014), this variance is nearly 40%, which is quite...