Prevention of vicarious learning via latent inhibition and immunisation

Reynolds, Gemma, Field, A.P. and Askew, Chris (2014) Prevention of vicarious learning via latent inhibition and immunisation. In: 42nd BABCP Annual conference and workshops; 22-25 July 2014, Birmingham, U.K.. (Unpublished)


Learning through observing others (vicarious learning) is an established pathway through which childhood fears develop. However, the mechanisms underpinning this learning and the nature of the learnt responses are not yet fully understood. Accordingly, the current research investigates how vicarious fear learning can be prevented. Prior positive modelling (‘immunisation’) has been found to inhibit the effects of subsequent vicarious fear learning in monkeys; however, pre-exposure only (‘latent inhibition’) had no effect despite a robust finding in the conditioning literature that pre-exposure inhibits learning. These findings have also been replicated in 12-21 month old toddlers. The researchers suggested that latent inhibition may not have been found because of the young age of the children or low statistical power. Using a large enough sample of older children (7-9 years) to guarantee sufficient power, this experiment explores whether latent inhibition and / or positive modelling reduce fear learning. Before a vicarious fear learning procedure with two novel animals whereby one animal is paired with scared faces (scared-paired) and a second animal is presented alone (unpaired), one group of children were given a positive vicarious learning experience with the scared-paired animal (positive modelling), a second group were simply exposed to the scared-paired animal (latent inhibition) and a third acted as a control group. Findings will be discussed along with the potential to inform parents, teachers and prevention programs. The results help us to better understand how children's fears develop and could therefore lead to the development of more effective treatment interventions.

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