Association between fear and visual memory for central and peripheral details
Type of DegreeDissertation
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The present study sought to determine if phobic individuals have improved memory for stimuli that are related to their phobic fear relative to non-anxiety provoking stimuli. Four hundred fifty-eight participants were screened until 41 participants met inclusion criteria for a spider phobic group and 39 participants met criteria for a non-phobic group. The 80 participants each viewed one of two stimulus-displays. One stimulus-display presented spider stimuli (central details) and other non-anxiety provoking stimuli (peripheral details). The other stimulus-display had the same arrangement of peripheral details as the first; however, in place of the spider stimuli, additional non-anxiety provoking stimuli (office supplies) were used. Participant’s recall, positional memory, and recognition memory for the stimuli on the display boards were than assessed. The purpose of the study was to examine the assertion proposed in the attentional-narrowing hypothesis that stimuli that cause anxiety or a negative emotional state are remembered better than are neutrally valenced stimuli. We hypothesized that spider phobic individuals would have better memory for the spider stimuli relative to the other stimuli on the board. Additionally, we hypothesized that if cognitive resources are being diverted towards frightening stimuli and away from non-frightening stimuli, then spider phobic participants should exhibit superior memory for spider stimuli relative to peripheral stimuli and superior memory for spider stimuli relative to non-phobic’s memory for spider stimuli. Results did not support the hypotheses. Significantly more office-supply stimuli were recalled and recognized compared to spider stimuli and other peripheral stimuli on the boards. Phobic status did not have a significant effect on the pattern of recall or recognition. Explanations for this pattern of results are discussed in the context of two competing theories related to memory for phobic stimuli. However, the most likely explanation for this pattern of results appears related to the choice of office-supply items as control stimuli.