Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy

Research Article

What Happens When Verbal Threat Information and Vicarious Learning Combine?

Chris Askewa1 p1, Hannah Kessock-Philipa1 and Andy P. Fielda1 c1

a1 University of Sussex, Brighton, UK


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.


c1 Reprint requests to Andy Field, Department of Psychology, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 6GQ, UK. E-mail:

p1 Chris Askew is now at Kingston University.