09/16/2013 03:36 pm ET

Conquer Phobias By Watching Someone Else Interact With What You're Afraid Of: Study


Are you afraid of spiders? A good way to get over that fear might be to watch another person interact with a spider, and experience no harm from doing so.

A new study suggests an effective way to conquer your fears could be to see someone else safely interact with the thing you're afraid of -- something called "vicarious social learning."

"Information about what is dangerous and safe in our environment is often transferred from other individuals through social forms of learning," study researcher Armita Golka, of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, said in a statement. "Our findings suggest that these social means of learning promote superior down-regulation of learned fear, as compared to the sole experiences of personal safety."

The findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, are based on experiments on 36 men who experienced unpleasant electrical shocks to their wrists in response to viewing images of certain faces, in order to condition them to be afraid of that particular face. Then, the men were divided up into separate groups, where one group watched a movie clip of a real person seeing that same image of the face, but without getting the shock. The other group watched the same clip, but it didn't have a real person in it.

Researchers found that the group who watched the video clip of a real person seeing the same image of the face but without getting a shock had a decreased fear response to that same image of the face, compared with the others.

Another study published earlier this year showed that attitude is an important factor in getting over phobias. That study, published in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy, showed that people with negative attitudes who underwent exposure therapy for a phobia were more likely to experience relapse, versus people with positive attitudes.