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Symbolic online exposure for spider fear: Habituation of fear, disgust and physiological arousal and predictors of symptom improvement


Matthews, A and Naran, N and Kirkby, KC, Symbolic online exposure for spider fear: Habituation of fear, disgust and physiological arousal and predictors of symptom improvement, Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 47 pp. 129-37. ISSN 0005-7916 (2015) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright Statement

Copyright 2015 Elsevier

DOI: doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2014.12.003


Background and objectives: This research compared the effects of real versus hyper-real images on anxiety, disgust, and physiological arousal during internet-delivered exposure in high spider-fearfuls. Hyper-real images were digitally altered to highlight fearful aspects. A further aim was to examine self-reported and behavioural therapeutic outcomes and exposure-related predictors of these outcomes.

Methods: Twenty-eight females were randomised to real (n = 14) or hyper-real (n = 14) treatment groups and nine participants were subsequently allocated to a wait-list control group. Treatment groups viewed an 8-stage exposure hierarchy of real or hyper-real spider images. Subjective anxiety and disgust ratings were taken during each stage (0, 60, 120, 180 s) with heart rate and skin conductance recorded throughout.

Results: Anxiety, disgust and physiological arousal habituated within each exposure stage, with no differential effect of real compared to hyper-real images. Both treatment groups but not controls demonstrated significant reductions in behavioural avoidance and self-reported phobic symptoms from pre-treatment to post-treatment with large effect sizes noted. The change in within-stage habituation of anxiety, disgust and heart rate, between the first and last stage, predicted improvement in behavioural avoidance at post-treatment. This suggests that generalisation of habituation to multiple images is an important predictor of improvement.

Limitations: While findings in relation to therapeutic outcome should be considered preliminary, clear relationships were found between exposure-related variables and outcome among those who undertook treatment.

Conclusions: Findings provide evidence in support of the efficacy of online image-based exposure and have implications for informing further research into the underlying mechanisms of image-based exposure treatment.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:spider phobia, online exposure, habituation, heart rate, skin conductance, emotional processing theory
Research Division:Psychology
Research Group:Clinical and health psychology
Research Field:Health psychology
Objective Division:Health
Objective Group:Public health (excl. specific population health)
Objective Field:Mental health
UTAS Author:Matthews, A (Dr Allison Matthews)
UTAS Author:Naran, N (Miss Nishma Naran)
UTAS Author:Kirkby, KC (Professor Kenneth Kirkby)
ID Code:98556
Year Published:2015
Web of Science® Times Cited:11
Deposited By:Psychology
Deposited On:2015-02-19
Last Modified:2017-11-06
Downloads:470 View Download Statistics

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