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Depress Anxiety. 2015 Feb;32(2):91-8. doi: 10.1002/da.22333. Epub 2014 Nov 25.

Avoidance moderates the association between mothers' and children's fears: findings from a novel motion-tracking behavioral assessment.

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Child Study Center, Yale University, Child Study Center, New Haven, Connecticut.



Fear and anxiety in children are associated with similar symptoms in parents. Parental modeling of fearful or avoidant behavior is believed to contribute to this association. We employed a novel motion-tracking experimentation platform to test the hypothesis that mothers' behavioral avoidance of spiders moderates the association between fear of spiders in mothers and children.


Participants were 86 children (aged 7-17) presenting with an anxiety disorder, and their mothers. Children and mothers completed the Spider Phobia Questionnaire. Mothers completed a motion-tracking assessment of behavioral avoidance of spiders.


Fear of spiders in mothers was associated with fear of spiders in children (r85  = 0.48, 95%CI 0.30 - 0.63, P < 0.001). Two metrics of behavioral avoidance in mothers were associated with mothers' self-reported fear of spiders (r = -0.49, 95% CI 0.31-0.64, P < 0.001; and r = 0.42, 95%CI 0.23 - 0.58 P < 0.001). Mothers' behavioral avoidance moderated the association between fear of spiders in mothers and in children. When mothers' avoidance was intermediate or high the association was significant, and as mothers' behavioral avoidance increased the strength of the association increased. Fear of spiders in mothers with low behavioral avoidance was not associated with fear of spiders in their children.


The study demonstrates that behavioral avoidance can be measured using the motion-tracking platform and can be useful in understanding the links between symptoms of anxiety in mothers and children. Reducing parents' overt expressions of avoidance may lower the risk of fears being transmitted to children.


anxiety/anxiety disorders; child/adolescent; computer/internet technology; maternal child; phobia/phobic disorders

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