Advertisement

Journal of Neural Transmission

, Volume 116, Issue 6, pp 725–733 | Cite as

Toward and away from spiders: eye-movements in spider-fearful participants

  • Antje B. M. Gerdes
  • Paul Pauli
  • Georg W. AlpersEmail author
Basic Neurosciences, Genetics and Immunology - Original Article

Abstract

Highly fearful individuals show attentional biases toward threat. However, it is still unclear whether initial engagement of attention toward threat or difficulties to disengage from threat is the underlying mechanism. We used eye-tracking to investigate how quickly fear-relevant pictures are identified and whether they distract from the allocation of attention toward neutral targets. Pairs of fear-relevant and neutral pictures were presented to 18 high and 16 low spider-fearful participants. They were instructed to either fixate on a target or to fixate on the opposite picture, while eye movements were monitored continuously. Overall, fear-relevant targets were fixated more quickly than neutral targets. Spider-fearful participants had longer latencies when they had to identify the fear-relevant but fixate the neutral picture. Thus, attentional allocation toward threat was not specifically enhanced in fearful participants. Instead, they had difficulties to disengage attention from fear-relevant information. This disengagement deficit could be a cause, a correlate, or the result of phobic fear.

Keywords

Spider phobia Eye movements Automatic attention Attentional disengagement 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We acknowledge the support by the Research Group Emotion and Behavior which is sponsored by the German Research Society (DFG).

References

  1. Alpers GW (2008) Eye-catching: right hemisphere attentional bias for emotional pictures. Laterality: Asymmetries Body Brain Cogn 13:158–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alpers GW, Gerdes ABM, Lagarie B, Tabbert K, Vaitl D, Stark R (in press). Attention modulates amygdala activity: when spider phobic patients do not attend to spiders. J Neural TransmGoogle Scholar
  3. Anders S, Birbaumer N, Sadowski B, Erb M, Mader I, Grodd W et al (2004) Parietal somatosensory association cortex mediates affective blindsight. Nature Neurosci 7:339–340PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bar-Haim Y, Lamy D, Pergamin L, Bakermans-Kranenburg MJ, van IJzendoorn MH (2007) Threat-related attentional bias in anxious and non-anxious individuals: a meta-analytic study. Psychol Bull 133:1–24PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carlsson K, Petersson KM, Lundqvist D, Karlsson A, Ingvar M, Öhman A (2004) Fear and the amygdala: manipulation of awareness generates differential cerebral responses to phobic and fear-relevant (but nonfeared) stimuli. Emotion 4:340–353PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Davis M, Whalen PJ (2001) The amygdala: vigilance and emotion. Mol Psychiatry 6:13–34PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Everling S, Fischer B (1998) The antisaccade: a review of basic research and clinical studies. Neuropsychologia 36:885–899PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Eysenck MW, Derakshan N, Santos R, Calvo MG (2007) Anxiety and cognitive performance: attentional control theory. Emotion 7:336–353PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fox E, Russo R, Bowles R, Dutton K (2001) Do threatening stimuli draw or hold visual attention in subclinical anxiety? J Exp Psychol Gen 130:681–700PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fox E, Russo R, Dutton K (2002) Attentional bias for threat: evidence for delayed disengagement from emotional faces. Cogn Emot 16:355–379PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gerdes ABM, Alpers GW, Pauli P (2008) When spiders appear suddenly: spider phobic patients are distracted by task-irrelevant spiders. Behav Res Ther 46:174–187PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hansen CH, Hansen RD (1988) Finding the face in the crowd: an anger superiority effect. J Pers Soc Psychol 54:917–924PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hutton SB, Ettinger U (2006) The antisaccade task as a research tool in psychopathology: a critical review. Psychophysiology 43:302–313PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Koster EHW, Crombez G, Van Damme S, Verschuere B, De Houwer J (2004) Does imminent threat capture and hold attention? Emotion 4:312–317PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Krohne HW, Egloff B, Kohlmann C-W, Tausch A (1996) Untersuchungen mit einer deutschen Version der “Positive and Negative Affect Schedule” (PANAS) [Investigations with a German version of the positive and negative affect schedule (PANAS)]. Diagnostica 42:139–156Google Scholar
  16. Lange WGT, Tierney KJ, Reinhardt-Rutland AH, Vivekananda-Schmidt P (2004) Viewing behaviour of spider phobics and non-phobics in the presence of threat and safety stimuli. Br J Clin Psychol 43:235–243PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. LeDoux J (1996) The emotional brain: the mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. Simon & Schuster, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  18. Lipp OV (2006) Of snakes and flowers: does preferential detection of pictures of fear-relevant animals in visual search reflect on fear-relevance? Emotion 6:296–308PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lipp OV, Waters AM (2007) When danger lurks in the background: attentional capture by animal fear-relevant distractors is specific and selectively enhanced by animal fear. Emotion 7:192–200PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Mathews A, Mackintosh B (1998) A cognitive model of selective processing in anxiety. Cognit Ther Res 22:539–560CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mathews A, MacLeod C (1987) An information-processing approach to anxiety. J Cognit Psychother 1:105–115Google Scholar
  22. Miltner WHR, Krieschel S, Hecht H, Trippe R, Weiss T (2004) Eye movements and behavioral responses to threatening and nonthreatening stimuli during visual search in phobic and nonphobic subjects. Emotion 4:323–339PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Miltner WHR, Trippe RH, Krieschel S, Gitberlet I, Hecht H, Weiss T (2005) Event-related brain potentials and affective responses to threat in spider/snake-phobic and non-phobic subjects. Int J Psychophysiol 57:43–52PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mineka S, Öhman A (2002) Phobias and preparedness: the selective, automatic, and encapsulated nature of fear. Biol Psychiatry 52:927–937PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mogg K, Bradley BP (1998) A cognitive-motivational analysis of anxiety. Behav Res Ther 36:809–848PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Mogg K, Bradley BP (2006) Time course of attentional bias for fear-relevant pictures in spider-fearful individuals. Behav Res Ther 44:1241–1250PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mogg K, Millar N, Bradley BP (2000) Biases in eye movements to threatening facial expressions in generalized anxiety disorder and depressive disorder. J Abnorm Psychol 109:695–704PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Öhman A, Flykt A, Esteves F (2001a) Emotion drives attention: detecting the snake in the grass. J Exp Psychol Gen 130:466–478PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Öhman A, Lundqvist D, Esteves F (2001b) The face in the crowd revisited: a threat advantage with schematic stimuli. J Pers Soc Psychol 80:381–396PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Rinck M, Becker ES (2006) Spider fearful individuals attend to threat, then quickly avoid it: evidence from eye movements. J Abnorm Psychol 115:231–238PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rinck M, Bundschuh S, Engler S, Müller A, Wissmann J, Ellwart T et al (2002) Reliability and validity of German versions of three instruments measuring fear of spiders. Diagnostica 48:141–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rinck M, Becker ES, Kellermann J, Roth WT (2003) Selective attention in anxiety: distraction and enhancement in visual search. Depress Anxiety 18:18–28PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rinck M, Reinecke A, Ellwart T, Heuer K, Becker ES (2005) Speeded detection and increased distraction in fear of spiders: evidence from eye movements. J Abnorm Psychol 114:235–248PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Salemink E, van den Hout MA, Kindt M (2007) Selective attention and threat: quick orienting versus slow disengagement and two versions of the dot probe task. Behav Res Ther 45:607–615PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sawchuk CN, Meunier SA, Lohr JM, Westendorf DH (2002) Fear, disgust, and information processing in specific phobia: the application of signal detection theory. J Anxiety Disord 16:495–510PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Schaller E, Gerdes A, Alpers GW (2006) Angst ungleich Ekel: Der Fragebogen zu Ekel und Angst vor Spinnen [abstract]. In: Alpers GW, Krebs H, Mühlberger A, Weyers P, Pauli P (eds) Wissenschaftliche Beiträge zum 24. Symposium der Fachgruppe Klinische Psychologie und Psychotherapie. Pabst, Lengerich, p 105Google Scholar
  37. Szymanski J, O’Donohue W (1995) Fear of spiders questionnaire. J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry 26:31–34PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Thorpe SJ, Salkovskis PM (1997) Information processing in spider phobics: the stroop colour naming task may indicate strategic but not automatic attentional bias. Behav Res Ther 35:131–144PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Watts FN, Sharrock R (1984) Questionnaire dimensions of spider phobia. Behav Res Ther 22:575–580PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wieser MJ, Pauli P, Weyers P, Alpers GW, Mühlberger A (in press) Fear of negative evaluation and the hypervigilance-avoidance hypothesis: an eye-tracking study. J Neural TransmGoogle Scholar
  41. Williams JMG, Watts FN, MacLeod C, Mathews A (1997) Cognitive psychology and the emotional disorders, 2nd edn. Wiley, ChichesterGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Antje B. M. Gerdes
    • 1
  • Paul Pauli
    • 1
  • Georg W. Alpers
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  2. 2.University of EichstättEichstättGermany

Personalised recommendations