Hypervigilance-avoidance pattern in spider phobia

Perception and Eye Movement Laboratory, Departments of Neurology and Clinical Research, University of Berne, Inselspital, Freiburgstrasse 10, 3010 Berne, Switzerland.
Journal of Anxiety Disorders (Impact Factor: 2.96). 02/2005; 19(1):105-16. DOI: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2003.12.002
Source: PubMed


Cognitive-motivational theories of phobias propose that patients' behavior is characterized by a hypervigilance-avoidance pattern. This implies that phobics initially direct their attention towards fear-relevant stimuli, followed by avoidance that is thought to prevent objective evaluation and habituation. However, previous experiments with highly anxious individuals confirmed initial hypervigilance and yet failed to show subsequent avoidance. In the present study, we administered a visual task in spider phobics and controls, requiring participants to search for spiders. Analyzing eye movements during visual exploration allowed the examination of spatial as well as temporal aspects of phobic behavior. Confirming the hypervigilance-avoidance hypothesis as a whole, our results showed that, relative to controls, phobics detected spiders faster, fixated closer to spiders during the initial search phase and fixated further from spiders subsequently.

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Available from: Tobias Pflugshaupt, Sep 29, 2014
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    • "Such findings were in line with the vigilance–avoidance hypothesis proposed by Mogg et al. (1987), according to which threat processing is characterised by an initial automatic capture of attention by threatening stimuli, which is rapidly followed by avoidant strategies. Although similar threat avoidance has been found in our and in Pflugshaupt et al.'s (2005) study, results from the two studies are hardly comparable since we did not evaluate eye movements throughout a long time window, but were interested in assessing the time course of rapid cognitive phenomena connected with responses to threat detection. Nonetheless , it would be interesting to evaluate whether the present pattern of results could be replicated in a clinical sample, such as in phobic individuals or in individuals with generalised anxiety disorder. "
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    ABSTRACT: Mechanisms underlying attentional biases towards threat (ABTs), such as attentional avoidance and difficulty of disengagement, are still unclear. To address this issue, we recorded participants' eye movements during a dot detection task in which threatening or neutral stimuli served as peripheral cues. We evaluated response times (RTs) in trials where participants looked at the central fixation cross (not at the cues), as they were required, and number and duration of (unwanted) fixations towards threatening or neutral cues; in all analyses trait anxiety was treated as a covariate. Difficulty in attentional disengagement (longer RTs) was found when peripheral threatening stimuli were presented for 100 ms. Moreover, we observed significantly shorter (unwanted) fixations on threatening than on neutral peripheral stimuli, compatible with an avoidance bias, for longer presentation times. These findings demonstrate that, independent of trait anxiety levels, disengagement bias occurs without eye movements, whereas eye movements are implied in threat avoidance.
    Cognition and Emotion 07/2015; DOI:10.1080/02699931.2015.1055712 · 2.52 Impact Factor
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    • "However, the nature of this attention bias (i.e., avoidance) was at odds with numerous studies indicating weight dissatisfied and eating disordered groups show increased attention towards rather than away from stimulus cues salient to their concerns (e.g., Gao et al., 2011, 2012; Rieger et al., 1998; Shafran et al., 2007). Nonetheless, attentional avoidance has been observed in dot probe studies of anxious (e.g., Calvo & Avero, 2005; Garner et al., 2006) and spider phobic (e.g., Pflugshaupt et al., 2005; Rinck & Becker, 2006) individuals, as well as those with chronic pain (e.g., Yang, Jackson, & Chen, 2013). Furthermore, laboratory evidence based on mild threat inductions (e.g., public-speaking tasks; Mansell, Clark, Ehlers, & Chen, 1999) and field research on people living within or outside the range of possible missile attack (Bar-Haim et al., 2010) indicate exposure to threat can manifest avoidance of, rather than vigilance towards threatening information. "
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    ABSTRACT: This research evaluated information-processing biases related to height dissatisfaction among young Chinese men. In Study 1, 32 highly stature dissatisfied (HSD) men and 36 less stature dissatisfied (LSD) men performed a dot probe task featuring height-related words and neutral words. HSD men were significantly slower than LSD men were in responding to probes that followed short stature words, but the groups did not differ in response speeds to probes that followed tall stature or neutral words. In Study 2, 33 HSD men and 34 LSD men completed an implicit learning task followed by a word recognition task. HSD men recognized significantly more short stature words from the initial task, but recognition accuracy for other word types did not differ between groups. Together, these findings suggest that HSD men are more inclined than LSD men to selectively avoid cues that reflect shortness in stature and to selectively recognize such cues later.
    Body Image 09/2014; 11(4):562-569. DOI:10.1016/j.bodyim.2014.08.011 · 1.90 Impact Factor
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    • "This was interpreted to be a strategy for alleviating fear of heights, since the horizontal distance to remote visual targets is not as threatening as depth is. Similarly earlier studies on specific phobias showed that fearful subjects tend to avoid gazing towards the threat [3], [4], and fearful subjects tend to overestimate height [5]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background Visual exploration of the surroundings during locomotion at heights has not yet been investigated in subjects suffering from fear of heights. Methods Eye and head movements were recorded separately in 16 subjects susceptible to fear of heights and in 16 non-susceptible controls while walking on an emergency escape balcony 20 meters above ground level. Participants wore mobile infrared eye-tracking goggles with a head-fixed scene camera and integrated 6-degrees-of-freedom inertial sensors for recording head movements. Video recordings of the subjects were simultaneously made to correlate gaze and gait behavior. Results Susceptibles exhibited a limited visual exploration of the surroundings, particularly the depth. Head movements were significantly reduced in all three planes (yaw, pitch, and roll) with less vertical head oscillations, whereas total eye movements (saccade amplitudes, frequencies, fixation durations) did not differ from those of controls. However, there was an anisotropy, with a preference for the vertical as opposed to the horizontal direction of saccades. Comparison of eye and head movement histograms and the resulting gaze-in-space revealed a smaller total area of visual exploration, which was mainly directed straight ahead and covered vertically an area from the horizon to the ground in front of the feet. This gaze behavior was associated with a slow, cautious gait. Conclusions The visual exploration of the surroundings by susceptibles to fear of heights differs during locomotion at heights from the earlier investigated behavior of standing still and looking from a balcony. During locomotion, anisotropy of gaze-in-space shows a preference for the vertical as opposed to the horizontal direction during stance. Avoiding looking into the abyss may reduce anxiety in both conditions; exploration of the “vertical strip” in the heading direction is beneficial for visual control of balance and avoidance of obstacles during locomotion.
    PLoS ONE 08/2014; 9(8):e105906. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0105906 · 3.23 Impact Factor
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