The present study examined the origins of common childhood fears within a South African context. Six-hundred-and-fifty-five 10- to 14-year-old children were given a brief fear list that helped them to identify their most intense fear and then completed a brief questionnaire for assessing the origins of fears that was based on Rachman's [Rachman, S. (1977). The conditioning theory of fear acquisition: A critical examination. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 15, 375-387; Rachman, S. (1991). Neoconditioning and the classical theory of fear acquisition. Clinical Psychology Review, 17, 47-67] three-pathways theory. More precisely, children were asked to report whether they had experienced conditioning, modeling, and negative information experiences in relation to their most feared stimulus or situation, and also had to indicate to what extent such experiences had actually played a role in the onset and/or intensification of their fears. Results showed that children most frequently reported indirect learning experiences (i.e., modeling and negative information) in relation to their fears, whereas conditioning was clearly less often mentioned. The majority of the children had no precise idea of how their fear had actually begun, but a substantial proportion of them reported various learning experiences in relation to the onset and intensification of fears. Significant cultural differences were not only observed in the prevalence of common fears, but also in the pathways reported for the origins of fears. The results are briefly discussed in terms of the living conditions of South African children from various cultural backgrounds.

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Journal of Anxiety Disorders
Department of Psychology

Muris, P., du Plessis, M., & Loxton, H. (2008). Origins of common fears in South African children. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 22(8), 1510–1515. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2008.03.004