Understanding animal fears: a comparison of the cognitive vulnerability and harm-looming models

Armfield, Jason M.
January 2007
BMC Psychiatry;2007, Vol. 7, p68
Academic Journal
Background: The Cognitive Vulnerability Model holds that both clinical and sub-clinical manifestations of animal fears are a result of how an animal is perceived, and can be used to explain both individual differences in fear acquisition and the uneven distribution of fears in the population. This study looked at the association between fear of a number of animals and perceptions of the animals as uncontrollable, unpredictable, dangerous and disgusting. Also assessed were the perceived loomingness, prior familiarity, and negative evaluation of the animals as well as possible conditioning experiences. Methods: 162 first-year University students rated their fear and perceptions of four high-fear and four low-fear animals. Results: Perceptions of the animals as dangerous, disgusting and uncontrollable were significantly associated with fear of both high- and low-fear animals while perceptions of unpredictability were significantly associated with fear of high-fear animals. Conditioning experiences were unrelated to fear of any animals. In multiple regression analyses, loomingness did not account for a significant amount of the variance in fear beyond that accounted for by the cognitive vulnerability variables. However, the vulnerability variables accounted for between 20% and 51% of the variance in all animals fears beyond that accounted for by perceptions of the animals as looming. Perceptions of dangerousness, uncontrollability and unpredictability were highly predictive of the uneven distribution of animal fears. Conclusion: This study provides support for the Cognitive Vulnerability Model of the etiology of specific fears and phobias and brings into question the utility of the harm-looming model in explaining animal fear.


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