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Overcoming fear – Part 4: Close friendships influence responses to fear

Overcoming fear - Part 4: Close friendships influence responses to fear

Fear is a normal sensation experienced by people of all ages, including children; in fact, it has a lot of beneficial effects that safeguards a person in the long run. It has been observed that children from different age groups display a different interpretation of fear, and the nature of fear and anxiety is known to change as they grow and mature.  Besides fear inflicted by certain situations and things, some of the fears stem from anxieties pertaining to separation from closed ones.

Highly prevalent among kids in the age group of 10 to 18 months, such a type of fear commonly known as separation anxiety is caused due to a deep sense of attachment with parents. Likewise, children between ages four and six years have unfounded fears of ghosts and monsters, and those between ages seven and 12 years usually have fears pertaining to real circumstances, such as natural disasters and bodily injuries.

The above fear can influence children to behave in ways that would be considered safer for them. For instance, the fear of fire could dissuade them from playing with gas stoves and matchsticks, or coming close to hot objects. Unfortunately, being in a state of alertness over a long span of time could lead to the development of phobias. Since most of the phobias rise during childhood, one has to ensure adequate measures during this critical phase of growing. One can comprehend the long-term implication of phobia by the fact that some phobias continue even after a child has entered into his or her adulthood. The current article talks about the way friendship among children can mold their outlooks toward fear.

Close friendships shape interpretation of fear among school children

A study published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy revealed that children who share strong ties with one another also share similar patterns of fear-related thoughts and have been observed to mold each other’s outlook on fears, such as beliefs and potential dangers, by talking about such issues.

Led by the lead author, Dr. Jinnie Ooi, it was found that like parents even close friends play a pivotal role in the transmission of fears and awareness about ways to behave in fearful situations. Through direct learning and sharing of information, children influence each other’s interpretation of fears, a finding speculated to bring much relief to parents if they consider group therapy for their child’s anxiety symptoms.

The participants of the study entailed 242 schoolchildren (106 boys and 136 girls), in the age group of seven to 10 years, whose anxiety and fear beliefs were determined and taken into account. The participants were then introduced to pictures of the Australian marsupials Cuscus and Quoll.

The next step included reading two different pieces of information about these marsupials. While one piece described the marsupials as dangerous, another piece was ambiguous in nature. After reading both the versions to the participants, their fear responses toward these marsupials were assessed. After the participants were divided into pairs of close friends to enable them to discuss about their feelings about the marsupials, their fear responses were reassessed. They were divided into the following groups:

  • 40 pairs of boys
  • 55 pairs of girls
  • 26 boy-girl pairs

Another part of the study measured children’s avoidance behaviors by providing them with a map of an enclosure with the positions of the marsupials marked on the opposite ends. The participants were then asked to mark the map where they’d like to position themselves within the enclosure. Finally, the participants were provided with the correct information about the marsupials along with a video description and a discussion on the two marsupials, thereby changing their fear responses one last time.

It was found that the participants influenced each other’s thoughts and the fear responses of a participant were indicative of his or her pair’s fear response. The results suggested:

  • Gender pair groups predicted children’s fear response over time.
  • Boy-boy pairs displayed a significant increase in fear responses after the discussion.
  • Girl-girl pairs displayed a significant decrease in their fear responses, which was at least consistent till the point where the threatening information was divulged.
  • Contrast in anxiety levels among close friends did not change their fear responses over time.

Learn ways to fight fears

Mental health service providers should also consider if children’s negative thoughts and fears are impacted by their peers’ beliefs and the possibility of discussing thoughts in an adaptive way. The findings of the aforementioned study may also assist in the development of school-based interventions that can assist school children to address their dreads and anxieties in a constructive way.

If you or your loved one is experiencing the symptoms of an anxiety disorder, it is imperative to seek professional help. The Anxiety Disorder Helpline assists in offering the best anxiety disorder treatment centers that specialize in delivering evidence-based intervention plans. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-971-7951 or chat online with our medical advisers to know more about the anxiety disorder treatment clinics in the U.S.

Read the other articles of the series “Overcoming fear:”

Part 1: Exposure to fear unconsciously may help in beating phobia

Part 2: Psychotherapy proves to be an effective tool against social phobia

Part 3: Reduce fear by bypassing conscious exposure to fear