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

ABSTRACT 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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    • "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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    • "Two studies using the dot-probe paradigm revealed attentional avoidance at 500 ms (Chen, Ehlers, Clark, & Mansell, 2002; Vassilopoulos 2005) supported by two eye-tracking studies (Mu¨hlberger , Wieser, & Pauli, 2008; Wieser et al., 2009). Attentional hypervigilance and attentional avoidance are not necessarily mutually exclusive when considered within the hypervigilance-avoidance-framework (Pflugshaupt et al., 2005). The hypervigilance-avoidance theory assumes that anxious individuals initially show quick engagement with threat cues followed by attentional avoidance of these same threat cues. "
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    • "Under conditions of stress or anxiety, however, biases in detecting and processing emotional or threatening stimuli are well established (Beck and Clark, 1997). Higher levels of both trait and state anxiety, in both student populations and clinically anxious individuals, are associated with not just the initial speed at which attention is drawn to threat, but impaired ability to switch attention away from threat, and preferential avoidance of attention away from threat at later stages of processing (Calvo and Avero, 2005; Pflugshaupt et al., 2005; Cisler and Koster, 2010; Veljaca and Rapee, 1998). A recent attentional bias review found that both trait anxiety and the induction of state anxiety using stressor tasks result in attentional biases at both automatic and strategic levels of processing (Cisler and Koster, 2010). "
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