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Enhanced information processing of phobic natural images in participants with specific phobias

  • From an evolutionary point of view, it can be assumed that visual processing and rapid detection of potentially dangerous stimuli in the environment (e.g., perilous animals) is highly adaptive for all humans. In the present dissertation, I address three research questions; (1) Is information processing of threatening stimuli enhanced in individuals with specific phobias? (2) Are there any differences between the different types of phobia (e.g., spider phobia vs. snake phobia)? (3) Is the frequently reported attentional bias of individuals with specific phobias - which may contribute to an enhancement in information processing – also detectable in a prior entry paradigm? In Experiments 1 to 3 of the present thesis non-anxious control, spider-fearful, snake-fearful, and blood-injection-injury-fearful participants took part in the study. We applied in each experiment a response priming paradigm which has a strong theoretical (cf. rapid-chase theory; Schmidt, Niehaus, & Nagel, 2006; Schmidt, Haberkamp, Veltkamp et al., 2011) as well as empirical background (cf. Schmidt, 2002). We show that information processing in fearful individuals is indeed enhanced for phobic images (i.e., spiders for spider-fearful participants; injuries for blood-injury-injection(BII)-fearful individuals). However, we found marked differences between the different types of phobia. In Experiment 1 and 2 (Chapter 2 and 3), spiders had a strong and specific influence in the group of spider-fearful individuals: Phobic primes entailed the largest priming effects, and phobic targets accelerated responses, both effects indicating speeded response activation by phobic images. In snake-fearful participants (Experiment 1, Chapter 2), this processing enhancement for phobic material was less pronounced and extended to both snake and spider images. In Experiment 3 (Chapter 4), we demonstrated that early information processing for pictures of small injuries is also enhanced in BII-fearful participants, even though BII fear is unique in that BII-fearful individuals show opposite physiological reactions when confronted with the phobic stimulus compared to individuals with animal phobias. These results show that already fast visuomotor responses are further enhanced in spider- and BII-fearful participants. Results give evidence that responses are based on the first feedforward sweep of neuronal activation proceeding through the visuomotor system. I propose that the additional enhancement in spider- and BII-fearful individuals depend on a specific hardwired binding of elementary features belonging to the phobic object in fearful individuals (i.e., effortless recognition of the respective phobic object via hardwired neuronal conjunctions). I suggest that these hardwired conjunctions developed due to long-term perceptual learning processes. We also investigate the frequently reported attentional bias of phobic individuals and showed that this bias is detectable in temporal order judgments using a prior entry paradigm. I assume that perceptual learning processes might also strengthen the attentional bias, for example, by providing a more salient bottom-up signal that draws attention involuntarily. In sum, I conclude that (1) early information processing of threatening stimuli is indeed enhanced in individuals with specific phobias but that (2) differences between divers types of phobia exist (i.e., spider- and BII-fearful participants show enhanced information of the respective phobic object; though, snake-fearful participants show no specific information processing enhancement of snakes); (3) the frequently reported attentional bias of spider-fearful individuals is also detectable in a prior entry paradigm.

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Author:Anke Haberkamp
URN (permanent link):urn:nbn:de:hbz:386-kluedo-37404
Advisor:Thomas Schmidt
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Language of publication:English
Publication Date:2014/02/18
Date of first Publication:2014/02/18
Publishing Institute:Technische Universität Kaiserslautern
Granting Institute:Technische Universität Kaiserslautern
Acceptance Date of the Thesis:2014/01/28
Date of the Publication (Server):2014/02/19
Number of page:XI, 140
Faculties / Organisational entities:Fachbereich Sozialwissenschaften
DDC-Cassification:1 Philosophie und Psychologie / 150 Psychologie
MSC-Classification (mathematics):91-XX GAME THEORY, ECONOMICS, SOCIAL AND BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES / 91Exx Mathematical psychology / 91E30 Psychophysics and psychophysiology; perception
Licence (German):Standard gemäß KLUEDO-Leitlinien vom 10.09.2012