We examined the effects of training to approach or avoid novel animals on fear-related responses in children. Ninety-five primary school children (9–13 years old) were instructed to repeatedly push away or pull closer pictures of novel animals. We tested whether this manipulation would lead to changes in self-reported attitudes, implicit attitudes, fear beliefs, and avoidance behaviors towards these animals. The training produced more positive self-reported attitudes towards the pulled animal and more negative attitudes towards the pushed animal. After the training, girls reported more fear and avoidance of the pushed animal than of the pulled animal, while such training effects were absent in boys. No significant training effects were observed on implicit attitudes. Interestingly, the level of anxiety disorder symptoms prior to training was related to some of the training effects: Stronger prior fear was related to stronger changes in self-reported attitudes, and in boys, also to fear beliefs. The finding that a simple approach–avoidance training influences children’s fear-related responses lends support to general theories of fear acquisition in children as well as to models that try to explain the intergenerational transmission of anxiety.

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doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2009.02.011, hdl.handle.net/1765/17256
Behaviour Research and Therapy
Department of Psychology

Huijding, J., Field, A., Houwer, J., Vandenbosch, K., Rinck, M., & van Oeveren, M. (2009). A behavioral route to dysfunctional representations: The effects of training approach or avoidance tendencies towards novel animals in children. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47(6), 471–477. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2009.02.011