Phobias may be cured by watching others
Intense fear of spiders or heights can be a persistent and limiting problem, but a new study published in Psychological Science found that watching individuals interact with the object or fear may help those with the phobias get over it. In fact, researchers say it may be more effective than interacting with the phobia directly.
For the study, 36 male participants were shown a series of faces. The appearance of one face was followed by a shock to the wrist six out of nine times it was shown. This taught the participants to associate the face with an unpleasant shock.
Then, researchers showed the men two movie clips of the same experiment, but the target face was not linked to a shock. One clip showed a person carrying out the experiment, while the other clip did not show a person. They found that the participants who watched the movie clip with the person showed a significantly lower fear response to the target face, compared to those who watched the clip without the person.
In addition, participants who viewed the movie with the person received three electric shocks without warning when the target face appeared, but their fear did not resurface.
Researchers say this response may be because we learn what is dangerous and safe in our environment oftentimes through social forms of learning.