The effects of verbal information and approach-avoidance training on children's fear-related responses

Kathryn J. Lester*, Stephen C. Lisk, Nina Mikita, Sophie Mitchell, Jorg Huijding, Mike Rinck, Andy P. Field

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background and objectives This study examined the effects of verbal information and approach-avoidance training on fear-related cognitive and behavioural responses about novel animals. Methods One hundred and sixty children (7-11 years) were randomly allocated to receive: a) positive verbal information about one novel animal and threat information about a second novel animal (verbal information condition); b) approach-avoidance training in which they repeatedly pushed away (avoid) or pulled closer (approach) pictures of the animals (approach-avoidance training), c) a combined condition in which verbal information was given prior to approach-avoidance training (verbal information + approach-avoidance training) and d) a combined condition in which approach-avoidance training was given prior to verbal information (approach-avoidance training + verbal information). Results Threat and positive information significantly increased and decreased fear beliefs and avoidance behaviour respectively. Approach-avoidance training was successful in training the desired behavioural responses but had limited effects on fear-related responses. Verbal information and both combined conditions resulted in significantly larger effects than approach-avoidance training. We found no evidence for an additive effect of these pathways. Limitations This study used a non-clinical sample and focused on novel animals rather than animals about which children already had experience or established fears. The study also compared positive information/approach with threat information/avoid training, limiting specific conclusions regarding the independent effects of these conditions. Conclusions The present study finds little evidence in support of a possible causal role for behavioural response training in the aetiology of childhood fear. However, the provision of verbal information appears to be an important pathway involved in the aetiology of childhood fear.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-49
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Approach-avoidance
  • Children
  • Fear
  • Verbal information


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