Observational conditioning of fear to fear-relevant versus fear-irrelevant stimuli in rhesus monkeys

J Abnorm Psychol. 1989 Nov;98(4):448-59. doi: 10.1037//0021-843x.98.4.448.


Two experiments examined whether superior observational conditioning of fear occurs in observer rhesus monkeys that watch model monkeys exhibit an intense fear of fear-relevant, as compared with fear-irrelevant, stimuli. In both experiments, videotapes of model monkeys behaving fearfully were spliced so that it appeared that the models were reacting fearfully either to fear-relevant stimuli (toy snakes or a toy crocodile), or to fear-irrelevant stimuli (flowers or a toy rabbit). Observer groups watched one of four kinds of videotapes for 12 sessions. Results indicated that observers acquired a fear of fear-relevant stimuli (toy snakes and toy crocodile), but not of fear-irrelevant stimuli (flowers and toy rabbit). Implications of the present results for the preparedness theory of phobias are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Psychological*
  • Fear* / physiology
  • Female
  • Imitative Behavior*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Phobic Disorders / genetics
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Selection, Genetic