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“The Cuscus has White Teeth”: The Verbal Information Pathway to Fear in Non-clinically Anxious Children: No Influence of Ambiguous Information or Trait Anxiety

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posted on 2021-11-12, 15:05 authored by Dalrymple-Alford, Stefan

Twenty-nine non-clinically anxious children, aged 7-10 years old, completed the Fear Beliefs Questionnaire (FBQ; Field & Lawson, 2003) before and after the presentation of verbal ambiguous information about an unknown animal, while 32 similar children matched for trait anxiety did the same after hearing threat information. Behavioural avoidance of the animals was subsequently examined with an adaptation of the Nature Reserve Task (NRT; Field & Storksen-Coulson, 2007). Children also completed a Reduced Evidence of Danger interpretation bias task (Muris, Merckelbach & Damsma, 2000c) for ambiguous stories with generalised anxiety and social anxiety content, prior to the FBQ and NRT. Verbal threat information substantially increased FBQ ratings and NRT distance from the tagged animal, whereas ambiguous information had no effect on these measures other than a subset of children showing an avoidance of the tagged animal in the NRT. Contrary to expectations, level of trait anxiety was not related to interpretation biases, or the effect of ambiguous or threat information. In the threat group, but not the ambiguous group, two bias measures for generalised anxiety stories were associated with relative increase in FBQ ratings for the tagged animal, and a third bias measure for social anxiety stories was associated with NRT score. The associations held when controlling for gender, age, and trait anxiety, including trait anxiety used as a moderator variable. These findings support the view that verbal threat information is sufficient to induce fear of animals in children. Results are inconsistent with the current view that the effects of the verbal information pathway increase as a function of trait anxiety and that ambiguous verbal information can lead to increased fear responding. The evidence for bias – verbal threat associations suggests that future studies should examine their role in the verbal information pathway to fear and anxiety, and clarify the influence of various internalising and externalising psychopathologies beyond trait anxiety.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Science

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Salmon, Karen