Friday, May 23, 2008

Acquisition and severity of driving-related fears

AUTHORS: JT Taylor, FP Deane
JOURNAL: Behaviour Research and Therapy 1999, Volume 37, pages 435-449.

ABSTRACT: "Rachman's theory of fear acquisition proposes that directly-conditioned fears will differ from indirectly-conditioned fears in magnitude and anxiety response patterns, however the theory has received inconsistent empirical support. The aim of the present study was to describe the fear acquisition pathways for a community sample who reported driving-related fears and to test Rachman's theory of fear acquisition. One hundred and ninety participants completed a questionnaire which assessed a variety of driving-related situations, reactions to motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) and anxiety response patterns. Professional psychological helpseeking and perceived need for treatment for driving-related fears were also assessed. Results failed to support Rachman's predictions. However, it was confirmed that respondents who had been involved in a MVA were more likely to ascribe their fears to a directly-conditioned pathway. The theoretical and methodological implications of the findings are discussed, along with suggestions for assessment of those with driving-related fears."

SUMMARY: Rachman's theory, as mentioned in the abstract, is basically that there are three kinds of fear: 1) Pavlovian conditioned, 2) learned from observation and 3) learn from sources of information. Further he suggested that Pavlovian conditioned fears will be stronger, and associated with more physiological stress and fewer cognitive symptoms. The study was based on the responses of 190 participants (92% female). No difference in fear severity were found between groups who attributed their fear (as measured by bodily reactions and negative thoughts) to an accident and those who did not. It found that only 27% had experienced a motor vehicle accident and not all of those attributed their fear to the accident. 25% said they had "always been this way". The authors explained that belief to conditioning that was gradual or not remembered, instead (just for example) of considering that they may in fact have always been that way.

MY THOUGHTS: As someone who is not terribly interested in Rachman's theory in the first place, I am not terribly fascinated to find it is apparently wrong.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Never mind what Rachman said about fear types, try listening to what the study participants have to say about them.

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