Reductions in Children’s Vicariously Learnt Avoidance and Heart Rate Responses Using Positive Modeling
- Publisher: Routledge
Recent research has indicated that vicarious learning can lead to increases in children’s fear beliefs and avoidance preferences for stimuli and that these fear responses can subsequently be reversed using positive modeling (counterconditioning). The current study investigated children’s vicariously acquired avoidance behavior, physiological responses (heart rate), and attentional bias for stimuli and whether these could also be reduced via counterconditioning. Ninety-six (49 boys, 47 girls) 7- to 11-year-olds received vicarious fear learning for novel stimuli and were then randomly assigned to a counterconditioning, extinction, or control group. Fear beliefs and avoidance preferences were measured pre- and post-learning, whereas avoidance behavior, heart rate, and attentional bias were all measured post-learning. Control group children showed increases in fear beliefs and avoidance preferences for animals seen in vicarious fear learning trials. In addition, significantly greater avoidance behavior, heart rate responding, and attentional bias were observed for these animals compared to a control animal. In contrast, vicariously acquired avoidance preferences of children in the counterconditioning group were significantly reduced post-positive modeling, and these children also did not show the heightened heart rate responding to fear-paired animals. Children in the extinction group demonstrated comparable responses to the control group; thus the extinction procedure showed no effect on any fear measures. The findings suggest that counterconditioning with positive modelling can be used as an effective early intervention to reduce the behavioral and physiological effects of vicarious fear learning in childhood.