Learning to fear a second-order stimulus following vicarious learning.Cogn Emot. 2017 04; 31(3):572-579.CE
Vicarious fear learning refers to the acquisition of fear via observation of the fearful responses of others. The present study aims to extend current knowledge by exploring whether second-order vicarious fear learning can be demonstrated in children. That is, whether vicariously learnt fear responses for one stimulus can be elicited in a second stimulus associated with that initial stimulus. Results demonstrated that children's (5-11 years) fear responses for marsupials and caterpillars increased when they were seen with fearful faces compared to no faces. Additionally, the results indicated a second-order effect in which fear-related learning occurred for other animals seen together with the fear-paired animal, even though the animals were never observed with fearful faces themselves. Overall, the findings indicate that for children in this age group vicariously learnt fear-related responses for one stimulus can subsequently be observed for a second stimulus without it being experienced in a fear-related vicarious learning event. These findings may help to explain why some individuals do not recall involvement of a traumatic learning episode in the development of their fear of a specific stimulus.