Dr Chris Askew


Lecturer in Psychology
D.Phil Psychology
+44 (0)1483 682907
45 AC 05
Student consultation: Fri 10-11; 'Stats hour' is Fri 11-12

University roles and responsibilities

  • Research methods and statistics director for psychology

    My qualifications

    2007
    DPhil Psychology
    University of Sussex
    2003
    MRes Psychological Methods (Dist)
    University of Sussex
    2002
    BA (Hons) Applied Psychology (1st)
    University of Sussex
    2009
    PG Certificate in Learning & Teaching in Higher Education (Dist)
    Kingston University

    Business, industry and community links

    In the media

    2016
    Parents need to hide their fears
    Economic and Social Research Council: Society Now (p. 7)
    2013
    How children ‘catch’ fear
    BBC Science Focus

    Research

    Research interests

    Research funding

    2012 – 2015: Chris Askew (PI) & Andy Field. ESRC Research Grant (£261,618). The Role of Vicarious Learning in Preventing and Treating Children's Fears. ES/J0075 1X/1.

    2002 – 2006: Chris Askew, ESRC 1+3 Studentship (Approx. £60,000). PTA-030-2002-01619.

    Supervision

    Postgraduate research supervision

    My teaching

    Courses I teach on

    Postgraduate taught

    My publications

    Highlights

    Journal articles

    El-Khodary, B., Samara, M., & Askew, C. (2020). Traumatic Events and PTSD among Palestinian Children and Adolescents: The Effect of Demographic and Socioeconomic Factors. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11: 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7137754/

    Reynolds, G., & Askew, C. (2019). Effects of Vicarious Disgust Learning on the Development of Fear, Disgust and Attentional Biases in Children. Emotion, 19, 1268-1283

    Reynolds, G., Wasely, D., Dunne, G. & Askew, C. (2018). A comparison of positive vicarious learning and verbal information for reducing vicariously learned fear. Cognition & Emotion, 32, 1166-1177.

    Reynolds, G., Field, A. P. & Askew, C. (2018). Reductions in children’s vicariously learnt avoidance and heart rate responses using positive modeling. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 47, 555-568. FULL TEXT

    Dunne, G. & Askew, C. (2018). Vicarious Learning and Reduction of Fear in Children via Adult and Child Models. Emotion, 18, 528-534.

    Reynolds, G., Field, A. P., & Askew, C. (2017). Learning to Fear a Second-order Stimulus Following Vicarious Learning. Cognition & Emotion, 31, 572-579. FULL TEXT

    Dunne, G., Reynolds, G, & Askew, C. (2017). Stimulus Fear-Relevance and the Speed, Magnitude, and Robustness of Vicariously Learned Fear. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 95, 1-18.

    Askew, C., Reynolds, G., Fielding-Smith, S., & Field, A. P. (2016). Inhibition of vicariously learned fear in children using positive modeling and prior exposure. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 125, 279-291. FULL TEXT

    Askew, C., Hagel, A. & Morgan, J. (2015). Vicarious learning of children's social anxiety-related fear beliefs and emotional Stroop bias. Emotion, 15, 501-510.

    Reynolds, G., Field, A. P., & Askew, C. (2015). Preventing the development of observationally learnt fears in children by devaluing the model's negative response. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 43, 1355-1367. FULL TEXT

    Askew, C., Cakir, K., Poldsam, L., & Reynolds, G. (2014). The Effect of Disgust and Fear Modeling on Children’s Disgust and Fear for Animals. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 123, 566-577. FULL TEXT

    Reynolds, G, Field, A. P. & Askew, C. (2014). Effect of Vicarious Fear Learning on Children's Heart Rate Responses and Attentional Bias for Novel Animals. Emotion, 14, 995-1006. FULL TEXT

    Askew, C., Dunne, G., Ozdil, Z., Reynolds, G., & Field, A. P. (2013). Stimulus fear-relevance and the vicarious learning pathway to childhood fears. Emotion, 13, 915-925.

    Dunne, G. & Askew, C. (2013). Vicarious learning and un-learning of fear in children via mother and stranger models. Emotion, 13, 974-980.

    Askew, C. & Field, A. P. (2008). The vicarious learning pathway to fear 40 years on. Clinical Psychology Review, 28, 1249-1265.

    Askew, C., Kessock-Philip, H. & Field, A. P. (2008). Interactions between the indirect pathways to fear in children: what happens when verbal threat information and vicarious learning combine? Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 36, 491-505.

    Field, A. P., Lascelles, K. R. R., Lester, K. J., Askew, C. & Davey, G. C. L. (2008). Evaluative conditioning: missing, presumed dead. Netherlands Journal of Psychology, 64, 46-64.

    Askew, C. & Field, A. P. (2007). Vicarious learning and the development of fears during childhood. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 2616-2627.

    Book chapters

    Reynolds, G., Askew, C., & Field, A. P. (2018). Behavioral Inhibition and the Associative Learning of Fear. In K. Pérez-Edgar & N. A. Fox (Eds.) Behavioral Inhibition: Integrating Theory, Research, and Clinical Perspectives. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

    Publications

    C Askew, AP Field (2007)Vicarious learning and the development of fears during childhood, In: Behaviour Research and Therapy45(11)pp. 2616-2627 Elsevier

    Vicarious learning has long been assumed to be an indirect pathway to fear; however, there is only retrospective evidence that children acquire fears in this way. In two experiments, children (aged 7–9 years) were exposed to pictures of novel animals paired with pictures of either scared, happy or no facial expressions to see the impact on their fear cognitions and avoidance behavior about the animals. In Experiment 1, directly (self-report) and indirectly measured (affective priming) fear attitudes towards the animals changed congruent with the facial expressions with which these were paired. The indirectly measured fear beliefs persisted up to 3 months. Experiment 2 showed that children took significantly longer to approach a box they believed to contain an animal they had previously seen paired with scared faces. These results support theories of fear acquisition that suppose that vicarious learning affects cognitive and behavioral fear emotion, and suggest possibilities for interventions to weaken fear acquired in this way.

    Evidence shows that anxiety runs in families. One reason may be that children are particularly susceptible to learning fear from their parents. The current study compared children's fear beliefs and avoidance preferences for animals following positive or fearful modeling by mothers and strangers in vicarious learning and unlearning procedures. Children aged 6 to 10 years (N = 60) were exposed to pictures of novel animals either alone (control) or together with pictures of their mother or a stranger expressing fear or happiness. During unlearning (counterconditioning), children saw each animal again with their mother or a stranger expressing the opposite facial expression. Following vicarious learning, children's fear beliefs increased for animals seen with scared faces and this effect was the same whether fear was modeled by mothers or strangers. Fear beliefs and avoidance preferences decreased following positive counterconditioning and increased following fear counterconditioning. Again, learning was the same whether the model was the child's mother or a stranger. These findings indicate that children in this age group can vicariously learn and unlearn fear-related cognitions from both strangers and mothers. This has implications for our understanding of fear acquisition and the development of early interventions to prevent and reverse childhood fears and phobias.

    C Askew, AP Field (2008)The vicarious learning pathway to fear 40 years on, In: Clinical Psychology Review28(7)pp. 1249-1265 Elsevier

    Forty years on from the initial idea that fears could be learnt vicariously through observing other people's responses to a situation or stimulus, this review looks at the evidence for this theory as an explanatory model of clinical fear. First, we review early experimental evidence that fears can be learnt vicariously before turning to the evidence from both primate and human research that clinical fears can be acquired in this way. Finally, we review recent evidence from research on non-anxious children. Throughout the review we highlight problems and areas for future research. We conclude by exploring the likely underlying mechanisms in the vicarious learning of fear and the resulting clinical implications.

    C Askew, H Kessock-Philip, AP Field (2008)Interactions between the indirect pathways to fear in children: what happens when verbal threat information and vicarious learning combine?, In: Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy36(4)pp. 491-505 Cambridge University Press

    Recent research has shown that the verbal information and vicarious learning pathways to fear create long term fear cognitions and can create cognitive biases and avoidance in children. However, it is unlikely that these pathways operate in isolation in the aetiology of childhood fear and the interaction between these pathways is untested. Three preliminary experiments are reported that explore the combined effect of verbal threat information and vicarious learning on self-reported fear beliefs in 7–9-year-old children. Results showed that prior negative information significantly facilitated the effect of negative vicarious learning on children's fear beliefs (Experiment 1); however, there was not a significant combined effect of verbal threat information and vicarious learning when they the information was presented during (Experiment 2) or after (Experiment 3) vicarious learning. These results support the idea that verbal information can affect CS-US associations formed in subsequent vicarious learning events, but contradict the proposal that it can change fear beliefs already acquired through vicarious learning by changing how a person evaluates the vicarious learning episode.

    AP Field, KRR Lascelles, KJ Lester, C Askew, JCL Davey (2008)Evaluative conditioning: missing, presumed dead, In: Netherlands Journal of Psychology64(2)pp. 46-64 Springer

    Although research into evaluative conditioning (EC) has progressed considerably over the past 30 years, there have been some doubts about the strength and reliability of conditioning effects – especially when visual stimuli are used. Partly this has been due to well-documented methodological debates and empirical evidence of alternative causes of apparent learning (Field & Davey, 1999). The seeds of doubt have undoubtedly been nurtured, also by the numerous informal reports of researchers failing to obtain EC effects – even when replicating previously successful paradigms. This has led some to talk of boundary conditions that could enhance or eliminate the effects in EC experiments (De Houwer, Baeyens, Vansteenwegen & Eelen, 2000). This paper summarises 12 experiments that have explored this elusive phenomenon with mixed results (even when replicating past procedures). These various experiments are used to attempt to draw conclusions about what boundary conditions might exist for evaluative conditioning.

    C Askew, H Kessock-Philip, AP Field (2008)What Happens When Verbal Threat Information and Vicarious Learning Combine?, In: Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy36(4)pp. 491-505 Cambridge University Press

    Recent research has shown that the verbal information and vicarious learning pathways to fear create long term fear cognitions and can create cognitive biases and avoidance in children. However, it is unlikely that these pathways operate in isolation in the aetiology of childhood fear and the interaction between these pathways is untested. Three preliminary experiments are reported that explore the combined effect of verbal threat information and vicarious learning on self-reported fear beliefs in 7–9-year-old children. Results showed that prior negative information significantly facilitated the effect of negative vicarious learning on children's fear beliefs (Experiment 1); however, there was not a significant combined effect of verbal threat information and vicarious learning when they the information was presented during (Experiment 2) or after (Experiment 3) vicarious learning. These results support the idea that verbal information can affect CS-US associations formed in subsequent vicarious learning events, but contradict the proposal that it can change fear beliefs already acquired through vicarious learning by changing how a person evaluates the vicarious learning episode.

    G Reynolds, AP Field, Chris Askew (2018)Reductions in Children’s Vicariously Learnt Avoidance and Heart Rate Responses Using Positive Modeling, In: Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology47(4)pp. 555-568 Routledge

    Recent research has indicated that vicarious learning can lead to increases in children’s fear beliefs and avoidance preferences for stimuli and that these fear responses can subsequently be reversed using positive modeling (counterconditioning). The current study investigated children’s vicariously acquired avoidance behavior, physiological responses (heart rate), and attentional bias for stimuli and whether these could also be reduced via counterconditioning. Ninety-six (49 boys, 47 girls) 7- to 11-year-olds received vicarious fear learning for novel stimuli and were then randomly assigned to a counterconditioning, extinction, or control group. Fear beliefs and avoidance preferences were measured pre- and post-learning, whereas avoidance behavior, heart rate, and attentional bias were all measured post-learning. Control group children showed increases in fear beliefs and avoidance preferences for animals seen in vicarious fear learning trials. In addition, significantly greater avoidance behavior, heart rate responding, and attentional bias were observed for these animals compared to a control animal. In contrast, vicariously acquired avoidance preferences of children in the counterconditioning group were significantly reduced post-positive modeling, and these children also did not show the heightened heart rate responding to fear-paired animals. Children in the extinction group demonstrated comparable responses to the control group; thus the extinction procedure showed no effect on any fear measures. The findings suggest that counterconditioning with positive modelling can be used as an effective early intervention to reduce the behavioral and physiological effects of vicarious fear learning in childhood.

    C Askew, G Dunne, Z Özdil, G Reynolds, AP Field (2013)Stimulus fear-relevance and the vicarious learning pathway to childhood fears., In: Emotion13(5)pp. 915-925 American Psychological Association

    Enhanced fear learning for fear-relevant stimuli has been demonstrated in procedures with adults in the laboratory. Three experiments investigated the effect of stimulus fear-relevance on vicarious fear learning in children (aged 6-11 years). Pictures of stimuli with different levels of fear-relevance (flowers, caterpillars, snakes, worms, and Australian marsupials) were presented alone or together with scared faces. In line with previous studies, children's fear beliefs and avoidance preferences increased for stimuli they had seen with scared faces. However, in contrast to evidence with adults, learning was mostly similar for all stimulus types irrespective of fear-relevance. The results support a proposal that stimulus preparedness is bypassed when children observationally learn threat-related information from adults.

    Enhanced fear-learning for fear-relevant stimuli has been demonstrated in procedures with adults in the laboratory. Three experiments investigated the effect of stimulus fear-relevance on vicarious fear-learning in 6 to 11 year old children (aged 6-11 years). Pictures of stimuli with different levels of fear-relevance (flowers, caterpillars, snakes, worms and Australian marsupials) were presented alone or together with scared faces. In line with previous studies, children’s fear beliefs and avoidance increased for stimuli they had seen with scared faces. However, in contrast to evidence with adults, learning was similar for all three stimulus types irrespective of fear-relevance. The results support a proposal that stimulus preparedness is bypassed when children observationally learn threat-related information from adults.

    Counter-conditioning occurs when a learned response is altered in a second, contradictory, learning episode. Recent findings have shown that fear-related cognitions and behaviour acquired via verbal threat information can be reversed using a positive vicarious learning procedure, but it is not yet known whether vicariously acquired fear cognitions can also be 'unlearnt' using vicarious learning. The current study therefore aimed to explore whether vicariously acquired fear cognitions, behavioural preferences, physiological responses and attentional biases towards threat could be reversed using positive vicarious learning (counter-conditioning) or direct extinction. Children received vicarious learning for two novel animals, whereby one animal was paired with 10 faces expressing fear (scared-paired) and the other animal was presented alone (unpaired). For the counter-conditioning group, children then saw the same scared-paired animal but this time it was presented with happy faces. For the extinction group, children then saw the scared-paired animal alone on the screen 10 times. For the control group, children had only the vicarious learning followed by an unrelated task. Results showed that counter-conditioning resulted in a reversal of fear-related behavioral avoidance preferences, and prevention of increases in fear-related physiological responses and attentional bias. On the other hand, extinction failed to have a remedial effect. Clinical implications for the potential 'unlearning' of vicariously acquired fear are discussed.

    C Askew, M Zioga, AP Field (2004)Vicarious learning and the development of fear in children, In: Proceedings of the British Psychological Society12(2)pp. 151-151

    Objectives: It has long been assumed that children can acquire fear of a stimulus by observing another person acting fearfully towards it. However, unequivocal evidence for the ‘vicarious learning’ pathway has remained elusive because almost all previous studies have involved some form of retrospective measure, and so were susceptible to inaccuracies of longterm memory. The present study uses a prospective manipulation which tests whether children’s fear beliefs about a stimulus increase after observing it together with fearful faces. Methods: Half of a group of children aged between six and nine (N=121) were presented with pictures of two novel animals paired with either fearful or happy faces. A third animal was not paired with any faces. The other half of the group saw no pairings at all (control group). Fear beliefs about each animal were measured before and after the presentation phase using a selfreport questionnaire. Analysis: A mixed ANOVA found that compared to the control group fearful-face pairings maintained children’s fear belief levels, whilst happy-face pairings reduced children’s fear beliefs about the animals compared to the control group. Conclusions: Experiencing animals together with fearful faces appears to maintain fear beliefs where mere exposure to the animals (control group) would normally be expected to reduce fear beliefs. Also, interestingly, pairing happy faces together with an animal appear to reduce fear beliefs more than mere exposure alone. Thus, the results appear to represent the first steps towards showing how children’s fear beliefs about a stimulus can be affected by observing another’s facial expression.

    Past research with children has indicated that vicarious fear learning leads to changes in two of Lang's (1968) three anxiety response systems: language behaviour (subjective report) and overt behaviour (avoidance). The current study utilised Askew & Field's (2007) vicarious learning paradigm to investigate whether the third response system, physiological changes, is also affected. Evidence with clinically anxious children suggests that anxiety is associated with faster detection of threatening stimuli. However, it is unclear how these biases develop. Therefore, the current study also investigated whether attentional bias is created during vicarious learning. Forty-four children (aged 7 - 9 years) saw pictures of three unfamiliar animals (the quoll, quokka and cuscus) together with emotional faces. One animal was always presented with pictures of scared faces (scared-paired), one with happy faces (happy-paired), and a third with no faces (unpaired control) in a within-subject design. Measures of children's fear beliefs, avoidance preferences, behavioural avoidance, heart rate and attentional bias for the animals were taken. Increases in children's fear beliefs and avoidance preferences for animals were found following learning, and were still present 1 week and 1 month later. This supports previous research showing vicarious learning can lead to persistent changes in two of Lang's anxiety response systems: subjective report and avoidance. Results also indicated increases in children's heart rate for scared-paired animals compared to control animals, demonstrating for the first time effects of vicarious learning on Lang's third response system: physiological responses. Finally, children also showed attentional bias for scared-paired animals in a visual search task. Thus the findings suggest vicarious/observational learning is a viable pathway to the acquisition of a range of observable fear responses to stimuli, and have implications for our understanding of fears that develop in this way.

    C Askew, G Reynolds, AP Field (2015)The prevention and reversal of vicarious learning of fear in children aged 6 - 11 years, In: BPS Developmental Section & Social Section Psychology Annual Conference 2015 Abstract Bookpp. 71-71

    Objectives: Evidence has shown that children can develop fear beliefs and avoidance behaviour for a stimulus by observing someone else’s fear of it. The current set of studies investigated interventions to prevent or reverse vicarious fear learning in children. Method: Across three studies, a total of 195 children (aged 6-11 years) were presented with a vicarious fear learning procedure consisting of pictures of novel Australian marsupials together with either pictures of fearful adult faces or no faces. Prior to vicarious learning in Experiment 1, two groups of children saw the animals either with happy faces (immunisation) or alone (latent inhibition). In Experiment 2 some children were informed post-vicarious learning that the fearful model was less scared than they appeared to be (US devaluation). In Experiment 3 a group of children saw the animals again after vicarious learning but this time with happy faces (vicarious counterconditioning). Measures of children’s fear beliefs, avoidance, heart rate and attentional bias were taken for the animals. Findings: Results showed that: a) prior neutral or positive modelling experiences with animals can prevent vicarious learning; b) vicariously learnt fear responses can be reversed using US devaluation; and c) vicarious counterconditioning can successfully reverse vicariously learnt avoidance preferences, heart rate responses and attentional bias for animals. Discussion: Vicarious learning can increase children’s fear-related beliefs, avoidance behaviour, physiological responses and attentional bias for stimuli. Positive modelling can be used to prevent or reverse vicarious learning. Additionally, changing how children think about the fearful model’s behaviour can also reverse fear.

    G Reynolds, AP Field, Chris Askew (2017)Learning to fear a second-order stimulus following vicarious learning, In: Cognition and Emotion31pp. 572-579 Routledge

    Vicarious fear learning refers to the acquisition of fear via observation of the fearful responses of others. The present study aims to extend current knowledge by exploring whether second-order vicarious fear learning can be demonstrated in children. That is, whether vicariously learnt fear responses for one stimulus can be elicited in a second stimulus associated with that initial stimulus. Results demonstrated that children's (5-11 years) fear responses for marsupials and caterpillars increased when they were seen with fearful faces compared to no faces. Additionally, the results indicated a second-order effect in which fear-related learning occurred for other animals seen together with the fear-paired animal, even though the animals were never observed with fearful faces themselves. Overall, the findings indicate that for children in this age group vicariously learnt fear-related responses for one stimulus can subsequently be observed for a second stimulus without it being experienced in a fear-related vicarious learning event. These findings may help to explain why some individuals do not recall involvement of a traumatic learning episode in the development of their fear of a specific stimulus.

    G Reynolds, AP Field, C Askew (2015)Second-order learning following fear-related vicarious learning in children, In: BPS Developmental Section & Social Section Psychology Annual Conference 2015 Abstract Bookpp. 69-69

    Background: Vicarious fear learning refers to the acquisition of fear via observation of the fearful responses of others. Previous research (e.g., Reynolds, Field & Askew, 2014) has demonstrated changes in subjective report, behavioural avoidance, physiological responding and attentional bias follow vicarious fear learning. Method: Two experiments used a prospective vicarious learning paradigm in which pictures of two marsupials or two caterpillars were presented on a screen to children aged 5-11. One animal was always paired with fearful faces and the other appeared alone on the screen. Fear cognitions and avoidance preferences were measured before and after vicarious learning. Findings: Two experiments replicated the finding that children’s fear beliefs for animals and caterpillars increased when they were seen with fearful faces compared to no faces. Additionally, the results indicated a second-order effect in which fear-related learning occurred for animals seen together with other animals that had previously been paired with scared faces, even though the animals were never directly paired with fearful faces themselves. Experiment 2 demonstrated that this second-order effect occurred regardless of whether the first and second order stimuli were a caterpillar or a marsupial. Furthermore, Experiment 2 showed increased avoidance preferences following first- and second-order learning. Discussion: These are the first results in children to indicate that vicariously learnt fear responses for stimuli can be elicited in other stimuli they are subsequently associated with. Findings aid understanding of how some individuals are unable to recall a traumatic event associated with their fear or phobia and informs intervention targeting.

    AP Field, C Askew (2007)Associative learning and the indirect pathways to fear in children, In: Abstracts of Vth World Congress of Behavioural and Cognitive Therapiespp. 61-61

    Verbal threat information and observational learning have long been assumed to play an important role in the development of fears and phobias. Although evidence for the contribution of indirect pathways to fear has traditionally been based on retrospective reports recent work has begun to experimentally manipulate threat information and vicarious learning experiences about novel animals in pre-teenage children (e.g. Field & Lawson, 2003). These experiments show that threat information can change fear beliefs in children (measured explicitly and implicitly) that persist over long periods of time and create behavioural avoidance and attentional biases. However, the mechanisms underlying these effects remain unexplored. This talk presents experiments that test the notion that effects of threat information and vicarious learning in the development of fear in children are driven by associative learning processes. The first two experiments adapt Field and Lawson's (2003) paradigm in 7-9 year old children and the results showed that fear beliefs induced by threat information are sensitive to the contingency between the novel animal and information given and are also affected by devaluation of the information. The second two experiments test the same phenomena in a vicarious learning paradigm in which novel animals and scared or happy facial expressions were contiguously presented. The results showed little effect of contingency or US revaluation in vicarious learning. These experiments suggest that associative learning is a versatile framework within which to explain the developmental acquisition of fears in children; however, they imply that there are differences in the extent to which threat information and vicarious learning experiences conform to the known 'rules' of associative learning.

    Chris Askew, G Reynolds, S Fielding-Smith, AP Field (2016)Inhibition of Vicariously Learned Fear in Children Using Positive Modeling and Prior Exposure, In: Journal of Abnormal Psychology125(2)pp. 279-291 American Psychological Association

    One of the challenges to conditioning models of fear acquisition is to explain how different individuals can experience similar learning events and only some of them subsequently develop fear. Understanding factors moderating the impact of learning events on fear acquisition is key to understanding the etiology and prevention of fear in childhood. This study investigates these moderators in the context of vicarious (observational) learning. Two experiments tested predictions that the acquisition or inhibition of fear via vicarious learning is driven by associative learning mechanisms similar to direct conditioning. In Experiment 1, 3 groups of children aged 7 to 9 years received 1 of 3 inhibitive information interventions—psychoeducation, factual information, or no information (control)—prior to taking part in a vicarious fear learning procedure. In Experiment 2, 3 groups of children aged 7 to 10 years received 1 of 3 observational learning interventions—positive modeling (immunization), observational familiarity (latent inhibition), or no prevention (control)—before vicarious fear learning. Results indicated that observationally delivered manipulations inhibited vicarious fear learning, while preventions presented via written information did not. These findings confirm that vicarious learning shares some of the characteristics of direct conditioning and can explain why not all individuals will develop fear following a vicarious learning event. They also suggest that the modality of inhibitive learning is important and should match the fear learning pathway for increased chances of inhibition. Finally, the results demonstrate that positive modeling is likely to be a particularly effective method for preventing fear-related observational learning in children.

    Chris Askew, Gemma Reynolds, Sarah Fielding-Smith, David Wasely, Guler Dunne, Andy P Field (2017)Prevention and reversal of vicarious fear learning in 6-11 year olds
    G Dunne, G Reynolds, Chris Askew (2017)Stimulus Fear-Relevance and the Speed, Magnitude, and Robustness of Vicariously Learned Fear, In: Behaviour Research and Therapy95pp. 1-18 Elsevier

    Superior learning for fear-relevant stimuli is typically indicated in the laboratory by faster acquisition of fear responses, greater learned fear, and enhanced resistance to extinction. Three experiments investigated the speed, magnitude, and robustness of UK children's (6–10 years; N = 290; 122 boys, 168 girls) vicariously learned fear responses for three types of stimuli. In two experiments, children were presented with pictures of novel animals (Australian marsupials) and flowers (fear-irrelevant stimuli) alone (control) or together with faces expressing fear or happiness. To determine learning speed the number of stimulus-face pairings seen by children was varied (1, 10, or 30 trials). Robustness of learning was examined via repeated extinction procedures over 3 weeks. A third experiment compared the magnitude and robustness of vicarious fear learning for snakes and marsupials. Significant increases in fear responses were found for snakes, marsupials and flowers. There was no indication that vicarious learning for marsupials was faster than for flowers. Moreover, vicariously learned fear was neither greater nor more robust for snakes compared to marsupials, or for marsupials compared to flowers. These findings suggest that for this age group stimulus fear relevance may have little influence on vicarious fear learning.

    Gemma Reynolds, Chris Askew (2018)Effects of Vicarious Disgust Learning on the Development of Fear, Disgust and Attentional Biases in Children, In: Emotion American Psychological Association

    Fear and disgust are defensive emotions that have evolved to protect us from harm. While fear is thought to elicit an instinctive response to deal with immediate threat, disgust elicits immediate sensory rejection to avoid contamination. One mechanism through which disgust and fear may be linked is via attentional bias towards threat. Attentional bias is a well-established feature of anxiety disorders and is known to increase following vicarious fear learning. However, the contribution of vicarious learning to the development of disgustrelated attentional biases is currently unknown. Furthermore, the influence of individual differences in disgust propensity and disgust sensitivity on fear and disgust responses has not been investigated in the context of vicarious learning. Therefore, 53 children aged 7-9 years were randomly assigned to receive either fear vicarious learning or disgust vicarious learning. Children’s fear beliefs, disgust beliefs, avoidance preferences and attentional bias were measured at baseline and post-learning. Findings demonstrated increased fear and disgust responding to stimuli following disgust and fear vicarious learning. Crucially, the study provided the first evidence that disgust vicarious learning can create an attentional bias for threat in children similar to that created via fear vicarious learning. However, there was no relationship between disgust propensity and sensitivity and vicariously acquired increases in fear, disgust and attention. In conclusion, both fear and disgust vicarious learning can create attentional bias, allowing rapid detection of potentially harmful stimuli. This effect could contribute to fear development and is found even in children who are not particularly high in disgust proneness.

    Basel El-Khodary, Muthanna Samara, Chris Askew (2020)Traumatic Events and PTSD Among Palestinian Children and Adolescents: The Effect of Demographic and Socioeconomic Factors, In: Frontiers in Psychiatry114 Frontiers Media

    Background: The situation in the Gaza Strip is uncommon in the frequency with which children are exposed to war-related traumatic events on a daily basis and because of the long-term nature of the conflict. The prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among children and adolescents in the Gaza Strip increased after the recent wars. The aims of the study are: To investigate the prevalence and nature of war traumatic events and PTSD; and to investigate how these traumatic events predict PTSD when taking into account demographic and socioeconomic status factors amongst Palestinian children and adolescents in the Gaza Strip. Methods: The sample consists of 1,029 school pupils (11–17 years old): 533 (51.8%) were female and 496 (48.2%) were male. War-Traumatic Events Checklist (W-TECh) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders Symptoms Scale (PTSDSS) were used. Results: The majority of children and adolescents experienced personal trauma (N: 909; 88.4%), witnessed trauma to others (N: 861; 83.7%) and observed demolition of property (N: 908; 88.3%) during the war. Compared to girls, boys showed significantly more exposure to all three event types as well as overall traumatic events. Results also demonstrated that the prevalence of DSM-V PTSD diagnosis was 53.5% (N = 549). Further, children who had experienced personal trauma, trauma to others, and the demolition of property were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD compared to those who had not, even when adjusting for demographic and socioeconomic factors. The strongest war trauma for PTSD is personal trauma followed by witnessing trauma and then observing demolition of properties. Conclusions: The study provides valuable evidence that demographic and socioeconomic factors mediate the relationship between different war traumatic events and PTSD. Interventions should take into account the children’s background including their gender, age, where they live, and their socioeconomic status (e.g., family income, parents' educational level, family size) to alleviate the psychological symptoms and to enhance their resilience.

    G Reynolds, AP Field, C Askew (2015)Preventing the Development of Observationally Learnt Fears in Children by Devaluing the Model's Negative Response, In: Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology43(7)pp. 1355-1367

    Vicarious learning has become an established indirect pathway to fear acquisition. It is generally accepted that associative learning processes underlie vicarious learning; however, whether this association is a form of conditioned stimulus-unconditioned stimulus (CS-US) learning or stimulus–response (CS-CR) learning remains unclear. Traditionally, these types of learning can be dissociated in a US revaluation procedure. The current study explored the effects of post-vicarious learning US revaluation on acquired fear responses. Ninety-four children (46 males and 48 females) aged 6 to 10 years first viewed either a fear vicarious learning video or a neutral vicarious learning video followed by random allocation to one of three US revaluation conditions: inflation; deflation; or control. Inflation group children were presented with still images of the adults in the video and told that the accompanying sound and image of a very fast heart rate monitor belonged to the adult. The deflation group were shown the same images but with the sound and image of a normal heart rate. The control group received no US revaluation. Results indicated that inflating how scared the models appeared to be did not result in significant increases in children’s fear beliefs, avoidance preferences, avoidance behavior or heart rate for animals above increases caused by vicarious learning. In contrast, US devaluation resulted in significant decreases in fear beliefs and avoidance preferences. Thus, the findings provide evidence that CS-US associations underpin vicarious learning and suggest that US devaluation may be a successful method for preventing children from developing fear beliefs following a traumatic vicarious learning episode with a stimulus.

    Gemma Reynolds, David Wasely, Güler Dunne, Chris Askew (2018)Comparison of positive vicarious learning and verbal information for reducing vicariously learned fear, In: Cognition and Emotion32(6)pp. 1166-1177 Taylor & Francis (Routledge)

    Research with children has demonstrated that both positive vicarious learning (modelling) and positive verbal information can reduce children’s acquired fear responses for a particular stimulus. However, this fear reduction appears to be more effective when the intervention pathway matches the initial fear learning pathway. That is, positive verbal information is a more effective intervention than positive modelling when fear is originally acquired via negative verbal information. Research has yet to explore whether fear reduction pathways are also important for fears acquired via vicarious learning. To test this, an experiment compared the effectiveness of positive verbal information and positive vicarious learning interventions for reducing vicariously acquired fears in children (7-9 years). Both vicarious and informational fear reduction interventions were found to be equally effective at reducing vicariously acquired fears, suggesting that acquisition and intervention pathways do not need to match for successful fear reduction. This has significant implications for parents and those working with children because it suggests that providing children with positive information or positive vicarious learning immediately after a negative modelling event may prevent more serious fears developing.

    Research with children has shown that vicarious learning can result in changes to 2 of Lang's (1968) 3 anxiety response systems: subjective report and behavioral avoidance. The current study extended this research by exploring the effect of vicarious learning on physiological responses (Lang's final response system) and attentional bias. The study used Askew and Field's (2007) vicarious learning procedure and demonstrated fear-related increases in children's cognitive, behavioral, and physiological responses. Cognitive and behavioral changes were retested 1 week and 1 month later, and remained elevated. In addition, a visual search task demonstrated that fear-related vicarious learning creates an attentional bias for novel animals, which is moderated by increases in fear beliefs during learning. The findings demonstrate that vicarious learning leads to lasting changes in all 3 of Lang's anxiety response systems and is sufficient to create attentional bias to threat in children.

    C Askew, A Hagel, J Morgan (2015)Vicarious Learning of Children's Social-Anxiety-Related Fear Beliefs and Emotional Stroop Bias, In: Emotion15(4)pp. 501-510 American Psychological Association

    Models of social anxiety suggest that negative social experiences contribute to the development of social anxiety, and this is supported by self-report research. However, there is relatively little experimental evidence for the effects of learning experiences on social cognitions. The current study examined the effect of observing a social performance situation with a negative outcome on children’s (8 to 11 years old) fear-related beliefs and cognitive processing. Two groups of children were each shown 1 of 2 animated films of a person trying to score in basketball while being observed by others; in 1 film, the outcome was negative, and in the other, it was neutral. Children’s fear-related beliefs about performing in front of others were measured before and after the film and children were asked to complete an emotional Stroop task. Results showed that social fear beliefs increased for children who saw the negative social performance film. In addition, these children showed an emotional Stroop bias for social-anxiety-related words compared to children who saw the neutral film. The findings have implications for our understanding of social anxiety disorder and suggest that vicarious learning experiences in childhood may contribute to the development of social anxiety.

    C Askew, K Cakir, L Poldsam, G Reynolds (2014)The Effect of Disgust and Fear Modeling on Children's Disgust and Fear for Animals, In: Journal of Abnormal Psychology123(3)pp. 566-577

    Disgust is a protective emotion associated with certain types of animal fears. Given that a primary function of disgust is to protect against harm, increasing children’s disgust-related beliefs for animals may affect how threatening they think animals are and their avoidance of them. One way that children’s disgust beliefs for animals might change is via vicarious learning: by observing others responding to the animal with disgust. In Experiment 1, children (ages 7–10 years) were presented with images of novel animals together with adult faces expressing disgust. Children’s fear beliefs and avoidance preferences increased for these disgust-paired animals compared with unpaired control animals. Experiment 2 used the same procedure and compared disgust vicarious learning with vicarious learning with fear faces. Children’s fear beliefs and avoidance preferences for animals again increased as a result of disgust vicarious learning, and animals seen with disgust or fear faces were also rated more disgusting than control animals. The relationship between increased fear beliefs and avoidance preferences for animals was mediated by disgust for the animals. The experiments demonstrate that children can learn to believe that animals are disgusting and threatening after observing an adult responding with disgust toward them. The findings also suggest a bidirectional relationship between fear and disgust with fear-related vicarious learning leading to increased disgust for animals and disgust-related vicarious learning leading to increased fear and avoidance.

    G Reynolds, AP Field, C Askew (2014)Prevention of fear-related vicarious learning via latent inhibition and immunisation, In: BABCP 2014 Abstracts Bookpp. 58-59

    Learning through observing others (vicarious learning) is an established pathway through which childhood fears develop. However, the mechanisms underpinning this learning and the nature of the learnt responses are not yet fully understood. Accordingly, the current research investigates how vicarious fear learning can be prevented. Prior positive modelling (‘immunisation’) has been found to inhibit the effects of subsequent vicarious fear learning in monkeys; however, pre-exposure only (‘latent inhibition’) had no effect despite a robust finding in the conditioning literature that pre-exposure inhibits learning. These findings have also been replicated in 12-21 month old toddlers. The researchers suggested that latent inhibition may not have been found because of the young age of the children or low statistical power. Using a large enough sample of older children (7-9 years) to guarantee sufficient power, this experiment explores whether latent inhibition and / or positive modelling reduce fear learning. Before a vicarious fear learning procedure with two novel animals whereby one animal is paired with scared faces (scaredpaired) and a second animal is presented alone (unpaired), one group of children were given a positive vicarious learning experience with the scared-paired animal (positive modelling), a second group were simply exposed to the scared-paired animal (latent inhibition) and a third acted as a control group. Findings will be discussed along with the potential to inform parents, teachers and prevention programs. The results help us to better understand how children's fears develop and could therefore lead to the development of more effective treatment interventions.

    C Askew, K Taskirn (2011)Effect of disgust-related vicarious learning on children's fear beliefs for animals, In: EABCT 41st Annual Congress 2011 Abstractspp. 179-179

    Objectives: Studies indicate a link between the disgust emotion and animal phobias. However, relatively few studies have used experimental methods, making conclusions about causality problematic. Using an experimental procedure, Muris et al. (2008) recently demonstrated increased fear beliefs in children given disgust-related information about animals. The current study utilised Askew & Field’s (2007) paradigm to investigate whether disgust-related vicarious (observational) learning experiences also contribute to the development of children’s fears. Methods: Pictures of three Australian marsupials (the quoll, quokka and cuscus) were presented to 56 children (aged 7 - 10 years) on a computer screen. One animal was presented with pictures of faces expressing disgust, one with faces showing happiness and a third with no faces (control) in three counterbalanced within-subject conditions. Measures of fearrelated and disgust-related beliefs for the animals were taken before and after the animal-face presentations. In addition, children’s approach-avoidance behaviour for the animals was determined by measuring the distance between where they placed a figure representing themselves on a board (the ‘nature reserve’) and each of the animals. Results: Children’s fear beliefs increased for animals they had seen with disgust faces. These increases were positively associated with increases in disgust-related beliefs for these animals. In addition, the nature reserve task indicated children preferred to avoid the animal they had seen with disgusted faces. Conclusions: The study demonstrated that observing adults’ disgust responses to animals can encourage children to form fear beliefs and avoidance behaviour for those animals. This suggests a possible causal link between vicarious learning, the disgust emotion and fear-related responses to animals. Thus the findings have implications for our understanding of the role of vicarious learning and disgust in the development of fears and phobias in childhood.

    C Askew, L Kearney, J Morgan (2011)Observer perspective imagery in social anxiety: effects on quality of interaction and desire for future interactions, In: EABCT 41st Annual Congress 2011 Abstractspp. 200-200

    Objectives: Socially anxious people often imagine or recall social events from an observer perspective. They imagine their own appearance, often focusing on visible anxiety symptoms. These images have been shown to have wide-ranging negative effects such as increased anxiety and poor social performance. An alternative is the field perspective, in which the event is pictured from the person's own point of view. This is generally believed to be a more adaptive imagery style. Observer perspective images have been implicated in the onset of social anxiety. One possible mechanism by which this may occur is investigated in this study. It may be that observer perspective images have some of their effect by diminishing a person's enjoyment of social events and discouraging them from seeking out social interaction in future. Method: An independent measures study was conducted with two independent variables: anxiety (high vs low) and imagery type (field vs observer). Participants engaged in a conversation with the first author while focusing on an observer or field perspective image. They then completed measures of the quality, intimacy and level of disclosure during the interaction, and their desire for future interaction (DFI). Results: As expected, high anxious people reported lower quality of interaction and DFI. These effects were qualified by significant interactions between anxiety and imagery. The low anxious participants who used a field perspective image reported higher quality of interaction and DFI than all other groups. Further, an observer perspective image was found to decrease intimacy and disclosure among low socially anxious individuals (all ps

    C Askew, G Reynolds, AP Field (2014)Effects of vicarious learning on childhood fear acquisition and fear reversal, In: The British Psychological Society Developmental Section Annual Conference 2014 - Abstractspp. 17-17

    Objectives: Lang (1968) demonstrated three human anxiety response systems: verbal-cognitive, behavioural avoidance and physiological. Two experiments investigated the effects of vicarious learning (modelling) on children’s responses in each of these systems. Method: 141 children (7-11 years) saw pictures of novel animals together with adult faces expressing fear. Children’s fear beliefs, behavioural preferences, behavioural avoidance, heart rate and attentional bias for the animals were measured. Children in the second study experienced the same initial procedure but then saw the animals again with happy faces (counterconditioning). Results: Increases in fear beliefs, avoidance, heart rate, and attentional bias were detected following fear vicarious learning. In the second study, responses returned to baseline following positive vicarious counterconditioning. Conclusions: Fear vicarious learning leads to increases in children’s responses in each of Lang’s anxiety systems, but these changes can be reversed using positive modelling. The findings have implications for our understanding of the development and treatment of fear.

    C Askew, AP Field (2005)Vicarious learning and children's acquisition of fear, In: Proceedings of the British Psychological Society13(2)pp. 148-148

    Objectives: Despite widespread acceptance of Rachman’s (Behav. Res. Ther. 15 (1977) 375–387) proposition that fears can be acquired vicariously (observationally), evidence has remained equivocal. Almost all past studies have been criticised for methodological weaknesses: in particular for studying adult phobic populations using retrospective measures which are likely to be prone to inaccuracies of long-term memory. In contrast, the present study uses a prospective manipulation to investigate whether children’s fear beliefs about a novel stimulus increase after seeing it together with scared faces. Methods: A group of eight- to nine-year-olds (N=50) were presented with pictures of two novel animals together with either fearful or happy faces. A third animal was not paired with any faces. Fear beliefs about each animal were measured by self-report questionnaire before and after pairing. An affective priming task was used to obtain implicit measures of attitude towards the animals. Measures were taken again one week later. Results: A repeated measures ANOVA found that fear beliefs increased for animals paired with fearful faces and decreased for animals paired with happy faces compared to the non-paired animal. The results of the affective priming task indicated negative attitudes towards animals which had been in negative pairings compared to animals in positive pairings. Significant differences in fear beliefs and attitudes were still present one week later. Conclusions: Seeing novel animals together with fearful faces appears to increase children’s fear beliefs and negative attitudes toward the animal. Thus, the results show how children’s fear beliefs about a previously unknown stimulus can be affected just by observing another’s facial expressions. The findings have implications for both the theory and treatment of fears.

    G Dunne, Chris Askew (2018)Vicarious Learning and Reduction of Fear in Children via Adult and Child Models, In: Emotion18(4)pp. 528-534 American Psychological Association

    Children can learn to fear stimuli vicariously, by observing adults’ or peers’ responses to them. Given that much of school-aged children’s time is typically spent with their peers, it is important to establish whether fear learning from peers is as effective or robust as learning from adults, and also whether peers can be successful positive models for reducing fear. During a vicarious fear learning procedure, children (6 to 10 years; N = 60) were shown images of novel animals together with images of adult or peer faces expressing fear. Later they saw their fear-paired animal again together with positive emotional adult or peer faces. Children’s fear beliefs and avoidance for the animals increased following vicarious fear learning and decreased following positive vicarious counterconditioning. There was little evidence of differences in learning from adults and peers, demonstrating that for this age group peer models are effective models for both fear acquisition and reduction.