Inhibition of vicariously learned fear in children using positive modeling and prior exposure

Askew, Chris, Reynolds, Gemma ORCID:, Fielding-Smith, Sarah and Field, Andy P. (2016) Inhibition of vicariously learned fear in children using positive modeling and prior exposure. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 125 (2) . pp. 279-291. ISSN 0021-843X (doi:10.1037/abn0000131)

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One of the challenges to conditioning models of fear acquisition is to explain how different individuals can experience similar learning events and only some of them subsequently develop fear. Understanding factors moderating the impact of learning events on fear acquisition is key to understanding the etiology and prevention of fear in childhood. This study investigates these moderators in the context of vicarious (observational) learning. Two experiments tested predictions that the acquisition or inhibition of fear via vicarious learning is driven by associative learning mechanisms similar to direct conditioning. In Experiment 1, 3 groups of children aged 7 to 9 years received 1 of 3 inhibitive information interventions
psychoeducation, factual information, or no information (control)—prior to taking part in a vicarious fear learning procedure. In Experiment 2, 3 groups of children aged 7 to 10 years received 1 of 3 observational learning interventions—positive modeling (immunization), observational familiarity (latent inhibition), or no prevention (control)— before vicarious fear learning. Results indicated that observationally delivered manipulations inhibited vicarious fear learning, while preventions presented via written information did not. These findings confirm that vicarious learning shares some of the characteristics of direct conditioning and can explain why not all individuals will develop fear following a vicarious learning event. They also suggest that the modality of inhibitive learning is important and should match the fear learning pathway for increased chances of inhibition. Finally, the results demonstrate that positive modeling is likely to be a particularly effective method for preventing fear-related observational learning in children.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This article was published Online First December 14, 2015
Research Areas: A. > School of Science and Technology > Psychology
Item ID: 18919
Notes on copyright: This article has been published under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.Copyright for this article is retained by the author(s). Author(s) grant(s) the American Psychological Association the exclusive right to publish
the article and identify itself as the original publisher.
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Depositing User: Gemma Reynolds
Date Deposited: 25 Feb 2016 11:33
Last Modified: 16 Oct 2019 08:59

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