When asked to describe possible elicitors of fear, American children generate more stories about imaginary creatures than realistic ones; Palestinian children generate more realistic than imaginary causes (Kayyal et al., 2015). The current study reversed this task to investigate whether these patterns persist when American (n = 72) and Palestinian (n = 72) children (3–8 years, sex- and age-matched) freely labeled a story protagonist’s emotion and generated a behavioral consequence. For each story, children heard a brief description about a protagonist who encountered an imaginary (e.g., monster) or realistic (e.g., snake) fear-eliciting creature. Americans labeled the protagonist’s emotion for imaginary fear stories as scared significantly more often than for realistic ones; Palestinians labeled the protagonist’s emotion for both types as scared with equal probability. Children in both groups associated escape-related behaviors (e.g., running away) with both imaginary and realistic fear elicitors, but they associated inquisitive behaviors (e.g., going to look) exclusively with imaginary fear elicitors. Thus, culture plays a role in what children identify as scary but not in the behavioral responses they associate with different fear elicitors.
Kayyal, Mary H. and Widen, Sherri C.
"Imaginary and Realistic Fears: Palestinian and American Children’s Understanding of Fear’s Situational Elicitors and Behavioral Consequences,"
Merrill-Palmer Quarterly: Vol. 67
, Article 1.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/mpq/vol67/iss1/1