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Whether it is a fear of spiders, snakes or heights, many of us have phobias that we would love to be rid of for good. Now, a new study suggests that we can, by watching other individuals interact with the object or scenario that frightens us.
Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden say that experiencing our fears through the actions of another person may be more effective than trying to combat our fears directly, and it could even prevent them from resurfacing.
Previous studies have suggested that social forms of learning may trigger phobias, the researchers say. From this, they wanted to see whether it could also help to suppress them.
The study, published in Psychological Science, involved conducting a vicarious learning experiment on 36 male participants.
All participants were shown a series of faces. The appearance of one face was followed by an unpleasant electrical stimulation to the wrist six out of the nine times it was presented. The researchers say this was to teach the participants to associate the target face with the electric shock.
The researchers then showed the participants two movie clips of the same experiment in which the target face was not linked to the electrical stimulation. One movie clip showed a person carrying out the experiment, while the other clip did not.