Measuring Visual Change Detection in Specific Phobia
Type of Degreethesis
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The utility afforded from cognitive tasks in research concerning attentional bias and anxiety is well documented; however, whether it extends to research concerning specific phobia is uncertain. Often, the connection between attention and anxiety is eluded by the constraints of different tasks. It is represented ambiguously in latencies for detecting probes and naming colors, associated with cognitive interference, delayed disengagement, facilitated engagement, vigilance, and rumination. Ironically, results are often more indicative of the tasks themselves than of what the tasks proceed to measure. The flicker task is a visual spatial task that has demonstrated ecological validity (McGlynn, Wheeler, Wilamowska, & Katz, 2007). It involves detecting changes between pairs of scenes that simulate the environment in which feared objects appear. McGlynn et al. found that snake fearful participants required more cycles than did snake tolerant participants to detect change in neutral scenes than scenes that included snakes. The purpose of the current study was to test a hypothesis that the fearful participants in McGlynn, Wheeler, Wilamowska, and Katz’s (2007) study demonstrated difficulties disengaging attention from snakes. The study mimicked that of McGlynn et al. with the exception of a 30-second inter-pair interval that was included in addition to the previously used 5-second inter-pair interval. Results revealed a four-way interaction such that snake fearful participants detected marginal interest changes in neutral scenes that followed snake scenes juxtaposed by 5-second inter-pair intervals more quickly than they did marginal interest changes in neutral scenes that followed snake scenes juxtaposed by 30-second inter-pair intervals. By contrast, the participants detected central interest changes in neutral scenes that followed snake scenes juxtaposed by 30-second inter-pair intervals more quickly than they did central interest changes in neutral scenes that followed snake scenes juxtaposed by 5-second inter-pair intervals. These findings suggest that participants avoid snakes under conditions involving 5-second inter-pair intervals and demonstrate vigilance of them under conditions involving 30-second inter-pair intervals. A suggestion for future research that incorporates the strengths of multiple tasks is offered.