Attentional biases in college-age adults with spider fears

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University of Alabama Libraries

There has been a growing literature on an attentional bias to threat in anxious individuals. This bias has been shown in individuals with social phobia and generalized anxiety disorder, but it is unclear if such a bias appears in other anxiety disorders such as specific phobias (SPs). Initial evidence indicates that individuals with SPs appear to demonstrate an attentional bias towards the object they fear; however, it has not yet been examined if the attentional bias seen in individuals with SPs is limited to the specific feared stimulus or other threatening stimuli. In order to address this question, the current study evaluated college-age adults with elevated spider fears. Participants completed two separate dot-probe tasks. One task involved spider stimuli and the other task involved threatening faces. In addition to within-subject differences in task performance, spider fear severity and social fear severity were examined in relation to biases. It was predicted that participants would show a greater degree of attentional bias towards spiders than threatening faces; however, those with higher levels of social anxiety were expected to show a greater attentional bias towards threatening faces and those with higher spider fear severity were expected to show a greater bias towards spiders. Results from the present study did not support this hypothesis. While results did indicate a significant difference between the spider dot-probe task and the faces dot-probe task and a significant attentional bias towards faces, results indicated that there was not generally an attentional bias towards or away from spiders. The implications of these findings are discussed.

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Clinical psychology