This study investigated whether fear beliefs can be installed in children after parents had received negatively tinted information about a novel stimulus. Parents of children aged 8-13 years (N = 88) were presented with negative, positive, or ambiguous information about an unknown animal and then given a number of open-ended vignettes describing confrontations with the animal with the instruction to tell their children what would happen in these situations. Results indicated that children's fear beliefs were influenced by the information that was provided to the parent. That is, parents who had received negative information provided more threatening narratives about the animal and hence installed higher levels of fear beliefs in their children than parents who had received positive information. In the case of ambiguous information, the transmission of fear was dependent on parents' trait anxiety levels. More precisely, high trait anxious parents told more negative stories about the unknown animal, which produced higher fear levels in children.

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Behaviour Research and Therapy
Department of Psychology

Muris, P.E.H.M, van Zwol, L, Huijding, J, & Mayer, B.N. (2010). Mom told me scary things about this animal: Parents installing fear beliefs in their children via the verbal information pathway. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 48(4), 341–346. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2009.12.001