Definition of Preparedness Hypothesis

The Preparedness Hypothesis, proposed by Seligman (1971), is a psychological theory that suggests that humans are biologically prepared to quickly and easily learn certain types of associations compared to others due to evolutionary influences.

Key Points

  • This hypothesis posits that humans have innate predispositions to fear certain stimuli or situations.
  • These prepared associations enhance learning and increase the likelihood of survival.
  • Prepared stimuli typically include objects or situations that were relevant to survival throughout evolution, such as snakes, spiders, or heights.


The Preparedness Hypothesis suggests that humans are more likely to acquire a fear response to evolutionary relevant stimuli. For example, a person may develop a fear of snakes more quickly than a fear of flowers, as snakes posed a greater threat to our ancestors. This hypothesis argues that our biological preparedness to easily learn these associations is adaptive, as it allows for rapid avoidance of potentially dangerous objects or situations.


Several studies support the Preparedness Hypothesis. Researchers have found that individuals are more likely to develop conditioned fear responses to stimuli that are biologically prepared, compared to stimuli that are not. In experiments, participants have shown faster and more persistent fear learning when exposed to prepared stimuli.


The Preparedness Hypothesis has implications for understanding the development and treatment of anxiety disorders. It suggests that individuals may be more susceptible to developing fears or phobias related to evolutionary relevant stimuli. Additionally, this hypothesis highlights the importance of incorporating prepared stimuli in exposure therapy to effectively treat anxiety disorders.