Neural response patterns in spider, blood-injection-injury and social fearful individuals: new insights from a simultaneous EEG/ECG–fMRI study
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In the present simultaneous EEG/ECG-fMRI study we compared the temporal and spatial characteristics of the brain responses and the cardiac activity during fear picture processing between spider, blood-injection-injury (BII) and social fearful as well as healthy (non-fearful) volunteers. All participants were presented with two neutral and six fear-related blocks of pictures: two social, two spider and two blood/injection fear blocks. In a social fear block neutral images were occasionally interspersed with photographs of angry faces and social exposure scenes. In spider and blood/injection fear blocks neutral pictures were interspersed with spider fear-relevant and blood/injection pictures, respectively. When compared to healthy controls the social fear group responded with increased activations in the anterior orbital, middle/anterior cingulate and middle/superior temporal areas for pictures depicting angry faces and with a few elevated superior frontal activations for social exposure scenes. In the blood/injection fear group, heart rate was decreased and the activity in the middle/inferior frontal and visual processing regions was increased for blood/injection pictures. The HR decrease for blood/injection pictures correlated with increased frontal responses. In the spider fear group, spider fear-relevant pictures triggered increased activations within a broad subcortical and cortical neural fear network. The HR response for spider fear-relevant stimuli was increased and correlated with an increased insula and hippocampus activity. When compared to healthy controls, all fear groups showed higher LPP amplitudes for their feared cues and an overall greater P1 hypervigilance effect. Contrasts against the fear control groups showed that the increased responses for fear-specific stimuli are mostly related to specific fears and not to general anxiety proneness. The results suggest different engagement of cognitive evaluation and down-regulation strategies and an overall increased sensitization of the fear system in the three fear groups.
KeywordsFear EEG/fMRI Spider phobia Blood-injection-injury (BII) phobia Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
Compliance with ethical standards
The study involves Human Participants that were briefed on the experimental procedure and signed a written informed consent prior to the beginning of the experiment. The protocol was approved by the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Warsaw in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki.
Conflict of interest
The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
The study was supported by grants from the National Science Centre (Narodowe Centrum Nauki, NCN), decision number: DEC-2011/03/D/HS6/05951 and DEC-2011/03/D/HS6/05578. The project was realized with the aid of CePT research infrastructure purchased with funds from the European Regional Development Fund as part of the Innovative Economy Operational Programme, 2007–2013.
Sources of supports
We are grateful to Marcin Sińczuk for his support in programming and to Paweł Turnau, who constructed a web-based assessment platform used to collect the subjective ratings.
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