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Learning Theories Explaining Elevator Phobia Essay

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Updated: Feb 28th, 2021


I have developed a strong phobia towards the use of elevators after an accident that almost left me crippled. Since the fall, I have always avoided elevators even when going on higher floors. I have tried to fight the phobia, but whenever I am faced with the scenario where I am supposed to use the elevator, the memory of the fall becomes so clear, and my fear comes in its raw form. The defective elevator and subsequent accident was the unconditioned stimulus that resulted in pain which was the unconditioned response. The site of an elevator in this case is the conditioned stimulus that would trigger a conditioned response of instant fear.


One of the most common learning experiences that many people could have is the fear of heights. Many people are afraid of heights because they associate heights with a possible fall which could lead to serious injury or even death. Personally, I have developed a serious phobia for heights following my past unfortunate experience. I was using an elevator that was transparent and therefore one could see it gaining height.

Unfortunately, the elevator developed mechanical problems when we were on the second floor. It went loose and collapsed at a terrific speed onto the basement. All the three people in it survived but with serious injuries. Both legs were partially broken, and my skull had some fractures. What was even scarier was the sight of the elevator losing height at that terrifying speed. I was hospitalized for over one year and was lucky enough to be able to walk normally. The other two individuals we shared the elevator with have remained crippled. Since then, I have developed a very strong phobia not only of the elevators but also of heights. The memory of that event still remains clear in my mind.

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According to classical conditioning theory, human behavior is always closely related to the interaction that occurs between a person and the environment (Schmajuk, 2010). One learns to associate certain things in the environment with pain or happiness. This creates a mechanism where an individual would relate given stimuli with another stimulus in the environment. For instance, I have come to associate heights and elevators in particular with a fall.

Although it is not guaranteed that when I use elevators or am exposed to heights I will fall, I am always convinced that falling would be easy, making me develop some strange fear. Thus my behavior for fearing heights was shaped by a past learning experience that was very scary. I have kept asking what could have happened if the elevator was to break loose on the fourteenth floor or higher because I was going to the nineteenth floor. Such imagination would always bring untold fears whenever I am to step into an elevator.

According to Elliott (2010), Operant Conditioning Theory has majorly been used when explaining the behavior of people as shaped by reward or punishment. This scholar says that people fear punishment, but like reward and would always try to avoid punishments. People would always want to behave in a way that would earn them some form of reward from people around them. This theory may not apply directly in the scenario given above, but the punishment aspect of this theory may be applicable. Although it is a fact that using elevators is not a crime, my conscience has always insisted that I should avoid it as much as possible.

Using the lift would, therefore, be equated as going against my conscience. When this happens, the incident that took place during the fateful day of the accident comes raw. The memory of how the elevator started falling becomes so clear and the pain so real that it becomes impossible to continue the journey. My conscience would punish me instantly for going against its wish, and it comes with a lot of pain that is always unbearable. To avoid such punishment, I would avoid using the elevators. It is even more satisfying when I avoid heights completely. The satisfaction and sense of security that I always feel when am at the ground level can only be equated to a reward. I always feel at peace and protected when I am on the ground, away from any heights.


Observational Learning Theory is one of the most common theories that have been used to explain the behavior of a human being. According to Law (2009), the observational theory has generally been used to explain how children learn from what they see in their immediate environment. In the case described above, observational learning theory could have played part in reinforcement of the phobia I have towards heights and elevators in particular.

I have witnessed two cases where people suffered painfully through accidents in the elevators. This has reinforced my fear as it validates the feeling that this machine can kill if things go wrong. It has reinforced the feeling that elevators should be avoided because they are life-threatening. The experience has caused me a lot of trouble when faced with a scenario that requires the use of the elevator.


Elliott, D. (2010). Vision and goal-directed movement: Neurobehavioral perspectives. Champaig: Human Kinetics.

Law, B. D. (2009). A description of the functions of observational learning in sport. Ottawa: Library and Archives Canada.

Schmajuk, N. A. (2010). Mechanisms in classical conditioning: A computational approach. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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