Training children to approach or avoid novel animals: effects on self-reported attitudes and fear beliefs and information seeking behaviors

J. Huijding*, P. Muris, K.J. Lester, A P. Field, G. Joosse

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We examined the effects of training to approach or avoid novel animals on fear-related responses in children. Ninety-nine primary school children (9-12 years old) were instructed to repeatedly move a manikin toward or away from pictures of novel animals. The training produced more positive self-reported attitudes for the animal that was repeatedly approached and more negative attitudes for the animal that was repeatedly avoided. After the training, children reported more fear of the avoided animal than of the approached animal. Interestingly, children showed a training-congruent confirmation bias effect on an information-seeking task. That is, they displayed a tendency to seek more positive information about the approached animal, whereas they were inclined to search for more negative information about the avoided animal. No significant training effects were observed on implicit attitudes. The finding that a simple approach-avoidance training influences children's fear-related responses and leads to biased information-seeking behaviors lends support to general theories of fear acquisition in children as well as to models that try to explain the intergenerational transmission of anxiety. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)606-613
Number of pages8
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011


  • Children
  • Fear
  • Approach-avoidance
  • Confirmation bias
  • ME

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