Ambiguous Information and the Verbal Information Pathway to Fear in Children
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The primary aim of this study was to investigate the influence of ambiguous verbal information on children’s verbal and behavioral fear response. We extended existing research by using a within participants design, comparing the influence of ambiguous information with threat information, and their association with interpretation bias measures relevant to a range of situations. 61 children (7–10 years) were allocated to one of two conditions in which they received either ambiguous or threat information about unfamiliar animals. Before and after the information, they completed a questionnaire rating their fear beliefs about the tagged animal and a no-information control animal. At post-assessment, the children also completed a task assessing their behavioral avoidance of the animals. Measures of interpretational bias and trait anxiety were given at baseline. Verbal threat information substantially increased fear beliefs and behavioral avoidance. Ambiguous information had a weak effect on children’s fear beliefs but no effect on behavioral avoidance. Overall, trait anxiety was not significantly related to interpretation biases, or the effect of ambiguous or threat information. In the threat group, but not the ambiguous group, interpretational bias measures were associated with relative increase in fear beliefs for the tagged animal, and with behavioral avoidance. These findings support the view that verbal information can influence children’s fear and that even mild ambiguous information can also have an effect.
KeywordsVerbal information Ambiguous information Fear Anxiety Children
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