Skip to main content Accessibility help

What Happens When Verbal Threat Information and Vicarious Learning Combine?

  • Chris Askew (a1), Hannah Kessock-Philip (a1) and Andy P. Field (a1)

Recent research has shown that the verbal information and vicarious learning pathways to fear create long term fear cognitions and can create cognitive biases and avoidance in children. However, it is unlikely that these pathways operate in isolation in the aetiology of childhood fear and the interaction between these pathways is untested. Three preliminary experiments are reported that explore the combined effect of verbal threat information and vicarious learning on self-reported fear beliefs in 7–9-year-old children. Results showed that prior negative information significantly facilitated the effect of negative vicarious learning on children's fear beliefs (Experiment 1); however, there was not a significant combined effect of verbal threat information and vicarious learning when they the information was presented during (Experiment 2) or after (Experiment 3) vicarious learning. These results support the idea that verbal information can affect CS-US associations formed in subsequent vicarious learning events, but contradict the proposal that it can change fear beliefs already acquired through vicarious learning by changing how a person evaluates the vicarious learning episode.

Corresponding author
Reprint requests to Andy Field, Department of Psychology, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 6GQ, UK. E-mail:
Hide All
Askew, C. and Field, A. P. (2007). Vicarious learning and the development of fears in childhood. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 26162627.
Davey, G. C. L. (1997). A conditioning model of phobias. In Davey, G. C. L. (Ed.), Phobias: a handbook of theory, research and treatment (pp. 301322). Chichester: John Wiley and Sons.
Dollinger, S. J., O'Donnell, J. P. and Staley, A. A. (1984). Lightning-strike disaster: effects on children's fears and worries. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 52, 10281038.
Field, A. P. (2006a). The behavioral inhibition system and the verbal information pathway to children's fears. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 115, 742752.
Field, A. P. (2006b). Watch out for the beast: fear information and attentional bias in children. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 35, 337345.
Field, A. P. (2006c). Is conditioning a useful framework for understanding the development and treatment of phobias? Clinical Psychology Review, 26, 857875.
Field, A. P., Argyris, N. G. and Knowles, K. A. (2001). Who's afraid of the big bad wolf: a prospective paradigm to test Rachman's indirect pathways in children. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 39, 12591276.
Field, A. P. and Davey, G. C. L. (2001). Conditioning models of childhood anxiety. In Silverman, W. K. and Treffers, P. A. (Eds.), Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents: research, assessment and intervention. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Field, A. P. and Lawson, J. (2003). Fear information and the development of fears during childhood: effects on implicit fear responses and behavioural avoidance. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 41, 12771293.
Field, A. P., Lawson, J. and Banerjee, R. (2008). The verbal threat information pathway to fear in children: the longitudinal effects on fear cognitions and the immediate effects on avoidance behavior. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 117, 214224.
Field, A. P. and Schorah, H. (2007). The negative information pathway to fear and heart rate changes in children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48, 10881093.
Field, A. P. and Storksen-Coulson, (2007). The interaction of pathways to fear in childhood anxiety: a preliminary study. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 30513059.
Gerull, F. C. and Rapee, R. M. (2002). Mother knows best: effects of maternal modelling on the acquisition of fear and avoidance behaviour in toddlers. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 40, 279287.
Matsumoto, D. and Ekman, P. (1988). Japanese and Caucasian Facial Expressions of Emotion (JACFEE). San Francisco: San Francisco State University.
Mineka, S. and Cook, M. (1993). Mechanisms involved in the observational conditioning of fear. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 122, 2338.
Mineka, S. and Zinbarg, R. (2006). A contemporary learning theory perspective on the etiology of anxiety disorders: it's not what you thought it was. American Psychologist, 61, 1026.
Muris, P. (2007). Normal and Abnormal Fear and Anxiety in Children. Oxford: Elsevier Science.
Muris, P., Bodden, D., Merckelbach, H., Ollendick, T. H. and King, N. (2003). Fear of the beast: a prospective study on the effects of negative information on childhood fear. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 41, 195208.
Muris, P. and Merckelbach, H. (2001). The etiology of childhood specific phobia: a multifactorial model. In Vasey, M. W. and Dadds, M. R. (Eds.), The Developmental Psychopathology of Anxiety (pp. 355385). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ollendick, T. H. and King, N. J. (1991). Origins of childhood fears: an evaluation of Rachman theory of fear acquisition. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 29, 117123.
Rachman, S. (1977). Conditioning theory of fear-acquisition: critical examination. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 15, 375387.
Design, Ryle (1997). ExacTicks (version 1.10) [Computer Software]. Mt. Pleasant, Michigan: Ryle Design.
Wright, D. B. (1998). Modeling clustered data in autobiographical memory research: the multilevel approach. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 12, 339357.
Yule, W., Udwin, O. and Murdoch, K. (1990). The Jupiter sinking: effects on children's fears, depression and anxiety. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 31, 10511061.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy
  • ISSN: 1352-4658
  • EISSN: 1469-1833
  • URL: /core/journals/behavioural-and-cognitive-psychotherapy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed