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The effects of observational fear learning on children’s heart rate responses and attentional bias for animals

Askew, C, Reynolds, G and Field, AP (2014) The effects of observational fear learning on children’s heart rate responses and attentional bias for animals In: 44th Congress of the European Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies, 2014-09-10 - 2014-09-13, Den Haag, Netherlands.

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Past research with children has indicated that vicarious fear learning leads to changes in two of Lang's (1968) three anxiety response systems: language behaviour (subjective report) and overt behaviour (avoidance). The current study utilised Askew & Field's (2007) vicarious learning paradigm to investigate whether the third response system, physiological changes, is also affected. Evidence with clinically anxious children suggests that anxiety is associated with faster detection of threatening stimuli. However, it is unclear how these biases develop. Therefore, the current study also investigated whether attentional bias is created during vicarious learning. Forty-four children (aged 7 - 9 years) saw pictures of three unfamiliar animals (the quoll, quokka and cuscus) together with emotional faces. One animal was always presented with pictures of scared faces (scared-paired), one with happy faces (happy-paired), and a third with no faces (unpaired control) in a within-subject design. Measures of children's fear beliefs, avoidance preferences, behavioural avoidance, heart rate and attentional bias for the animals were taken. Increases in children's fear beliefs and avoidance preferences for animals were found following learning, and were still present 1 week and 1 month later. This supports previous research showing vicarious learning can lead to persistent changes in two of Lang's anxiety response systems: subjective report and avoidance. Results also indicated increases in children's heart rate for scared-paired animals compared to control animals, demonstrating for the first time effects of vicarious learning on Lang's third response system: physiological responses. Finally, children also showed attentional bias for scared-paired animals in a visual search task. Thus the findings suggest vicarious/observational learning is a viable pathway to the acquisition of a range of observable fear responses to stimuli, and have implications for our understanding of fears that develop in this way.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Conference Paper)
Subjects : Psychology
Divisions : Surrey research (other units)
Authors : Askew, C, Reynolds, G and Field, AP
Date : 12 September 2014
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 28 Mar 2017 15:54
Last Modified : 23 Jan 2020 13:19

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