Dental chair, mid 20th cent. Donation: Rest home Lavoslav Schwarz, Zagreb. TMNT 4694/1-4694/4, Technical Museum Nikola Tesla, Zagreb.

Classical conditioning in psychology, in other words, learning which results in a defined stimulus provoking a specific reaction, was initially investigated in the laboratory by the Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov at the end of the 19th century in the famous experiment with dogs. With the same method, psychologists John B. Watson and Rosalie Rayner researched empirically the classical conditioning in humans in controlled laboratory conditions with a nine-month-old baby, codenamed “Little Albert” (the Little Albert Experiment, 1920).

conditioned learning of fear

Before the experiment itself, Albert was exposed, for the first time in his life to a rabbit, a white mouse, a dog, a monkey, wool, various fabrics, masks with and without hair and various other stimuli. Albert was not afraid of any of these things. During the experiment, while Albert played with the mouse, the researchers would surprise him with a loud noise which was followed by a powerful blow with a hammer on a metal bar.

Over time Albert began to run away and to cry as soon as he saw the mouse. He developed a fear not only of the mouse but also of the things which he associated with it, such as stuffed animals as well as the mask of Father Christmas whose beard reminded him of the mouse. Fear, like other emotions, can, therefore, be conditioned by some basically neutral stimuli. Fear does not have to be necessarily of an evolutionary nature but inherent. We can also learn to be afraid of something. Scientific studies such as this, from ethical as well as legislative reasons, are unimaginable today.

Little Albert Experiment. John B. Watson, 1920. Durata: 2’ 12’’. Source: YouTube

basic fears

Fear of separation – of abandonment, of loss and rejection – is one of the basic human fears. Fear of public humiliation and shame, of others opinion understood as the loss of personal integrity – the ego death – also shapes human existence. Another basic fear is reflected in the loss of autonomy, of being immobilized, paralyzed, physically restricted and entrapped. Claustrophobia is perhaps the most common manifestation of this kind of fear. We are often afraid for our health, of losing the integrity of any organ, body part, or natural function. All these takes to the fear of extinction, of annihilation, of ceasing to exist as the ultimate fear, often simplified as the fear of death or other related situations that awake in us the sense of concern and fear. Fear of the unknown operates in a quite similar way. It is often a trigger for many other fears.

Feararchy model, Dr. Karl Albrecth, 2007.

The fear of annihilation, of ceasing to exist. This is a more fundamental way to express it than just “fear of death.” The idea of no longer being arouses a primary existential anxiety in all normal humans. Consider that panicky feeling you get when you look over the edge of a high building.
The fear of losing any part of our precious bodily structure; the thought of having our body’s boundaries invaded, or of losing the integrity of any organ, body part, or natural function. Anxiety about animals, such as bugs, spiders, snakes, and other creepy things arises from fear of mutilation.
Loss of autonomy
he fear of being immobilized, paralyzed, restricted, enveloped, overwhelmed, entrapped, imprisoned, smothered, or otherwise controlled by circumstances beyond our control. In physical form, it’s commonly known as claustrophobia, but it also extends to our social interactions and relationships.

the fear of abandonment, rejection, and loss of connectedness; of becoming a non-person—not wanted, respected, or valued by anyone else. The “silent treatment,” when imposed by a group, can have a devastating effect on its target.
Ego eeath
The fear of humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the self; the fear of the shattering or disintegration of one’s constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness.


Odvajanje/Separation. Director & screenplay: Nina Violić. Production: Spiritus Movens. Time: 9’ 58’’, 2014.

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