This study investigated the effect of filmed peer modeling on fear beliefs and approach-avoidance behaviors towards animals in 8- to 10-year-old typically developing children. Ninety-seven children randomly received either a positive or negative modeling film in which they saw peers interact with a novel animal. Before and after this film, children's fear beliefs and avoidance tendencies towards the modeled and non-modeled control animal were measured. A behavioral approach task was also administered post-modeling. Following positive peer modeling, children's fear beliefs and avoidance tendencies towards the modeled but also towards the non-modeled animal decreased significantly. After negative modeling, children's fear beliefs towards the modeled animal increased significantly, but did not change for the non-modeled animal. Negative modeling did not change avoidance tendencies for the modeled animal, while it decreased children's avoidance of the non-modeled animal. No significant effects were observed on the behavioral approach task. These results support Rachman's indirect pathway of modeling/vicarious learning as a plausible mechanism by which children can acquire fears of novel stimuli and stresses the important fear-reducing effects of positive peer modeling. Clinical implications and directions for future research are discussed.
- Peer modeling
- Vicarious learning