The Role of Vicarious Learning in Preventing and Treating Children's Fears
- Start date: 01 March 2012
- End date: 28 February 2015
Children can learn to become frightened of certain animals or objects if they witness someone else acting frightened of them (‘vicarious learning’). To develop the most effective prevention and treatment programmes for fears acquired in this way it is necessary to understand the mechanisms underpinning learning. This is the first aim of the research programme.
Researchers have shown that anxiety is associated with increased heart rate and maintained by biased ways of looking and thinking; in particular, anxious individuals tend to notice and pay more attention to their feared object. However, it is not yet known how or why these attentional biases develop. A further aim is to investigate whether vicarious learning can affect heart rate and the amount of attention paid to an object.
The third aim is to evaluate ways of preventing and treating the negative outcomes of vicarious learning. The project will examine whether vicariously learnt fear responses to animals can be reversed by training people to divert their attention away from them.
Finally, the research will also investigate whether vicarious learning can also be used to protect against acquiring fears and eliminate existing fears. This work will be of particular interesting to psychologists, teachers and parents.