Cognitive vulnerability: A model of the etiology of fear

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94 Citations (Scopus)


This paper attempts to fill the partial theoretical vacuum surrounding the understanding of fear acquisition. A review of recent and contemporary theories of the etiology of fear is presented, serving as a justification for further theorizing and allowing for greater understanding of those aspects of fear that remain to be adequately explained. A new model of the etiology of specific fears is subsequently put forward and the various aspects and implications of this model are discussed. How an individual perceives a stimulus is proposed as being critical in determining fear in relation to the stimulus. In particular, perceptions of the stimulus as uncontrollable, unpredictable, dangerous and disgusting create a schema of vulnerability. The Cognitive Vulnerability Model integrates much of the extensive body of research on fears and specific phobias into a unifying theory of the etiology of fear. The model offers parsimonious explanations for the various characteristics of specific fears and phobias.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)746-768
Number of pages23
JournalClinical Psychology Review
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive vulnerability
  • Etiology
  • Fear
  • Model
  • Phobia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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