Vicarious learning and the development of fears in childhood.Behav Res Ther. 2007 Nov; 45(11):2616-27.BR
Vicarious learning has long been assumed to be an indirect pathway to fear; however, there is only retrospective evidence that children acquire fears in this way. In two experiments, children (aged 7-9 years) were exposed to pictures of novel animals paired with pictures of either scared, happy or no facial expressions to see the impact on their fear cognitions and avoidance behavior about the animals. In Experiment 1, directly (self-report) and indirectly measured (affective priming) fear attitudes towards the animals changed congruent with the facial expressions with which these were paired. The indirectly measured fear beliefs persisted up to 3 months. Experiment 2 showed that children took significantly longer to approach a box they believed to contain an animal they had previously seen paired with scared faces. These results support theories of fear acquisition that suppose that vicarious learning affects cognitive and behavioral fear emotion, and suggest possibilities for interventions to weaken fear acquired in this way.