In the 'face' of fear: the relative effectiveness of fear extinction and counter-conditioning in diminishing viacriously acquired childhood fears
thesisposted on 29.03.2022, 01:53 by Tiffany Watson
Fears are a natural occurrence in childhood. However, excessive fears can lead to anxiety that endures into adulthood. Research suggests that vicarious learning and information provision can increase fear in children. However, there is less evidence for how these pathways can be utilised to reduce fears. Counter-conditioning and extinction are techniques that can reduce fear. This study compared the relative effectiveness of counter-conditioning to extinction in reducing fear using a vicarious learning procedure. Seventy-three children aged seven to 12 years old (M = 9.30, SD = 1.62) were exposed to pictures of two novel animals presented on a computer screen during a fear acquisition phase. One animal was presented alone (control) and the other animal was paired with a picture of a human face expressing fear (feared animal). During the fear reduction phase, children were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: counter-conditioning (feared animal paired with a happy face), extinction (feared animal without scared face) or a no fear reduction control group (no presentation of stimuli). Changes in fear beliefs and behavioural avoidance were tracked across learning phases. Counter-conditioning and extinction were associated with greater decreases in fear beliefs and avoidance compared to the control condition. Although there was some evidence that counter-conditioning may be more effective at reducing behavioural avoidance than extinction, counter-conditioning and extinction were equally as effective in reducing self-reported fear beliefs. The findings demonstrate that counter-conditioning may be more effective than extinction in reducing learned fears in children.