Observational extinction reduces fear and its retention among adolescents and adults

Yael Skversky-Blocq, Shahar Shmuel, Allison M. Waters, Tomer Shechner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Observational fear learning has been notably understudied in fear learning research, especially the potential benefits of observational extinction. Additionally, no studies have investigated observational extinction during adolescence, a key developmental stage for the emergence of anxiety disorders. This study compared observational and direct fear extinction following observational fear acquisition among adolescents and adults. Participants underwent differential observational fear acquisition. Next, participants underwent one of three fear extinctions: (1) observational extinction, (2) direct extinction, (3) no-extinction. Thereafter, participants underwent a US reminder and finally, a direct exposure test. Skin conductance response (SCR), self-reported fear, and risk assessment were measured. Differential observational fear acquisition was demonstrated by both age groups across all measures. During extinction, the observational and direct extinction groups did not differ in differential extinction, however, during the US reminder the observational group exhibited higher SCR compared to the direct group, but not the no-extinction group. Finally, during the direct exposure test, the no-extinction group showed greater differential risk assessment and higher SCR compared to the observational and direct groups. Additionally, adolescents showed poorer discrimination between the CSs compared to adults. Observational extinction successfully reduced fear and its retention amongst youth and adults pointing to the potential benefit of vicarious exposure therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104207
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Ltd


  • Development
  • Extinction
  • Observational fear learning
  • Psychophysiology
  • Risk assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Observational extinction reduces fear and its retention among adolescents and adults'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this