Watch and learn: Vicarious threat learning across human development

Yael Skversky-Blocq, Jan Haaker, Tomer Shechner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Vicarious threat learning is an important pathway in learning about safety and danger in the environment and is therefore critical for survival. It involves learning by observing another person’s (the demonstrator) fearful responses to threat and begins as early as infancy. The review discusses the literature on vicarious threat learning and infers how this learning pathway may evolve over human development. We begin by discussing the methods currently being used to study observational threat learning in the laboratory. Next, we focus on the social factors influencing vicarious threat learning; this is followed by a review of vicarious threat learning among children and adolescents. Finally, we examine the neural mechanisms underpinning vicarious threat learning across human development. To conclude, we encourage future research directions that will help elucidate how vicarious threat learning emerges and how it relates to the development of normative fear and pathological anxiety.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1345
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number10
StatePublished - 13 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Adolescents
  • Child development
  • Fear
  • Observational learning
  • Vicarious threat learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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