One small step towards the spider, but a giant leap in anxiety: Biased attentional responding to spider stimuli causally contributes to the rate of growth in state anxiety during spider approach

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Abstract

© 2016 The Australian Psychological Society
Objective: Elevated spider fear is characterised by distinctive behavioural and emotional components. The former involves an unusually strong tendency to behaviourally avoid spiders, whereas the latter involves unusually strong growth of state anxiety as proximity to a spider increases. Numerous studies have been conducted to investigate whether biased attentional responding to spider information causally contributes to the behavioural symptoms of spider fear. The findings of these studies suggest that such bias may not causally underpin the behavioural symptoms of spider fear. However, no study has yet examined whether attentional bias to spider information influences the emotional symptoms of spider fear. This was the purpose of this study. Method: Participants were exposed to an attentional bias modification (ABM) procedure, configured to induce either a decrease (avoid spider training) or an increase (attend spider training) in attentional bias to spider information, and then required to approach a live spider. The impact of this ABM training on the behavioural (how close participants approached the spider), and emotional symptoms (rate of growth in state anxiety as proximity to the spider increased), of spider fear was assessed. Results: The induction of a group difference in attentional bias to spider information influenced the degree to which state anxiety became elevated as proximity to a spider increased, but not patterns of behavioural approach to a spider. Conclusions: These results suggest that attentional bias to spider information causally contribute to the emotional component of spider fear, but may not functionally underpin the behavioural component of spider fear.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178-190
JournalAustralian Journal of Psychology
Volume68
Issue number3
Early online date29 Jul 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016

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