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Open Access Research

Spider phobics more easily see a spider in morphed schematic pictures

Iris-Tatjana Kolassa12*, Arlette Buchmann1, Romy Lauche1, Stephan Kolassa3, Ivailo Partchev4, Wolfgang HR Miltner1 and Frauke Musial1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Psychology, Biological & Clinical Psychology, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Am Steiger 3, 07743 Jena, Germany.

2 Clinical & Neuropsychology, University of Konstanz, P.O. Box 5560, 78457 Konstanz, Germany.

3 Operations Research, Institute of Applied Mathematics, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Ernst-Abbe-Platz 2, 07743 Jena, Germany.

4 Institute of Psychology, Methodology & Evaluation Research, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Am Steiger 3, 07743 Jena, Germany.

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Behavioral and Brain Functions 2007, 3:59  doi:10.1186/1744-9081-3-59

Published: 19 November 2007

Abstract

Background

Individuals with social phobia are more likely to misinterpret ambiguous social situations as more threatening, i.e. they show an interpretive bias. This study investigated whether such a bias also exists in specific phobia.

Methods

Individuals with spider phobia or social phobia, spider aficionados and non-phobic controls saw morphed stimuli that gradually transformed from a schematic picture of a flower into a schematic picture of a spider by shifting the outlines of the petals until they turned into spider legs. Participants' task was to decide whether each stimulus was more similar to a spider, a flower or to neither object while EEG was recorded.

Results

An interpretive bias was found in spider phobia on a behavioral level: with the first opening of the petals of the flower anchor, spider phobics rated the stimuli as more unpleasant and arousing than the control groups and showed an elevated latent trait to classify a stimulus as a spider and a response-time advantage for spider-like stimuli. No cortical correlates on the level of ERPs of this interpretive bias could be identified. However, consistent with previous studies, social and spider phobic persons exhibited generally enhanced visual P1 amplitudes indicative of hypervigilance in phobia.

Conclusion

Results suggest an interpretive bias and generalization of phobia-specific responses in specific phobia. Similar effects have been observed in other anxiety disorders, such as social phobia and posttraumatic stress disorder.