Norwich, UK (BBN) -The evidence is clear from every camping trip where a group of youngsters scare themselves with a ghost story by the fire.
Scientists have found children are more frightened of things if their friends are too, reports Daily Mail.
It is well known that parents can pass on their fears to their children, but the influence of school friends was unknown.
A study has now found seven to 10-year-olds take their lead from their best friends when faced with danger.
Boys together became more afraid after discussing a potentially threatening animal, although pairs of girls became less scared.
The authors, from the University of East Anglia, suggest this might be because boys initially downplay their anxiety so they do not look cowardly and less masculine.
The study shows the importance of friends for schoolboys, as it suggests knowing someone else is afraid gives them the confidence to talk about their own feelings.
Girls, in contrast, are less likely to hide their fear, which could be seen as a more feminine trait.
Lead author Dr Jinnie Ooi, said the findings could help children with anxiety, adding: ‘Our findings indicate that close friends may share negative thoughts and to some extent may maintain these thoughts.
‘Hopefully with this knowledge, we may be able to design interventions whereby close friends can help change their friends’ thoughts during therapy.’
The study involved 242 schoolchildren (106 boys, 136 girls) shown pictures and videos of two Australian marsupials – a type of possum called the cuscus and the quoll, a meat-eating animal about the size of a domestic cat.
The animals were chosen to be unfamiliar to the children, who were read two versions of information about them.
After hearing one ambiguous account and one describing them as threatening, the children were asked questions such as whether they would find it scary to touch the animals.
They also marked on a map how far away they would like to be from them.
Pairs of close friends, including 40 pairs of boys, 55 pairs of girls, and 26 boy-girl pairs, then discussed their feelings about the animals, before their fear responses were measured again.
The study, published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy, states: ‘The results showed that children in close friendships shared similar patterns pf fear beliefs and avoidance, even before they had discussed their responses.
‘Additionally, evidence suggested that close friends influenced each other’s anxious cognitions following the discussion.’
Girls appeared to make each other feel better and boys appeared more fearful after conferring, but girls were more likely to want to keep their distance from the animals.
Referring to previous research, the study concludes this could be driven by gender, with ‘boys downplaying their level of fearfulness when discussing their fears with other boys they are not close to, while the expression of fear may be more accepted among girls.’
Fears of children include being frightened of ghosts and the supernatural when they are young, of animals in middle childhood, and of injuring themselves, the authors said.