Vicarious fear acquisition in children: increasing fear relevance does not increase fear learning

Askew, Chris, Ozdil, Zehra and Field, Andy (2011) Vicarious fear acquisition in children: increasing fear relevance does not increase fear learning. In: BABCP 2011: 39th Annual Conference and Workshops; 20 - 23 Jul 2011, Guildford, U.K.. (Unpublished)


Studies suggest that fear may be vicariously transmitted to children if they observe someone acting fearfully with a stimulus. Some evidence seems to indicate that this only occurs when the stimulus is inherently ‘fear-relevant’; however, other evidence contradicts this. Askew et al. (2010) recently found no difference in vicarious learning in children for marsupials compared to less fear-relevant stimuli (flowers). The current study compared vicarious learning for the marsupials to stimuli believed to be more fear-relevant (caterpillars). Two groups of children (6 – 9 years, N = 59) saw pictures of scared faces presented together with pictures of either: one of two caterpillars (Automeris or Nymphalis) or one of two marsupials (Quollor Cuscus). The other caterpillar or marsupial picture was always presented to children on its own in a control condition. Children’s fear beliefs for the marsupial/caterpillars were measured before and after the pictures were presented. In addition, a measure of children’s approach-avoidance intentions was taken using the Nature Reserve Task (Field et al., 2007). Fear beliefs increased for animals presented with scared faces and there was greater avoidance of these animals in the Nature Reserve Task. Increases in fear beliefs and avoidance were no different for caterpillars and marsupials. Findings were similar to those of Askew et al. (2010) and suggested that vicarious fear-learning in children is not influenced by the fear-relevance of the stimulus. Understanding how fears develop will lead to the development of better treatments.

Actions (Repository Editors)

Item Control Page Item Control Page