Maternal modeling and the acquisition of fear and avoidance in toddlers: Influence of stimulus preparedness and child temperament

Kathrin Dubi*, Ronald M. Rapee, Jane L. Emerton, Carolyn A. Schniering

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The aim of the present study was to investigate the influence of maternal modeling on the acquisition of fear and avoidance towards fear-relevant and fear-irrelevant, novel stimuli in a sample of 71 toddlers. Children were shown a rubber snake or spider (fear-relevant objects) and a rubber mushroom or flower (fear-irrelevant objects), which were alternately paired with either negative or positive expression by their mothers. Both stimuli were presented again after a 1- and a 10-min delay, while mothers maintained a neutral expression. The toddlers showed increased fear and avoidance of the objects following negative reaction from their mothers than following positive maternal expression. This was similarly true for both fear-relevant and fear-irrelevant stimuli. In addition, no association was found between child temperament and behavioral responses and a weak association emerged between child temperament and emotional responses. The results demonstrate that young children can rapidly form conditioned emotional and behavioral responses via maternal reactions regardless of stimulus preparedness or child temperament. It is suggested that early maternal modeling may be relevant to a broad spectrum of fearful reactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-512
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Volume36
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2008

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