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Information-processing biases toward interoceptive stimuli in claustrophobia




Smitherman, Todd

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The present study endeavored to ascertain whether claustrophobic individuals manifest information-processing biases toward interoceptive stimuli, consistent with recent conceptualizations of this disorder. Nine hundred one participants were screened until 18 females were identified who met inclusion criteria for each of the three experimental groups (claustrophobic, snake phobic, nonphobic control). The 54 participants were administered a series of measures designed to assess interpretive, attentional, and memory biases toward interoceptive stimuli. Anxiety sensitivity scores were used also in an attempt to predict the relevant bias data. The purpose of this study was to evaluate one conceptualization of claustrophobia, which maintains that claustrophobia is characterized primarily by a fear of bodily sensations. Interoceptive fear is thought to differentiate claustrophobic individuals from those who suffer from animal phobias (e.g., snake, spider, etc.). We hypothesized that claustrophobic individuals would display interpretive, attentional, and memory biases toward interoceptive stimuli, compared to neutral and positively-valenced stimuli and to snake phobics and nonphobic controls. The results of this study did not support the hypotheses. The claustrophobic group did not evidence differential interpretive or attentional biases toward interoceptive stimuli. The snake phobic group did not differ from the other groups on most measures related to interpretive and attentional bias. No group effects were found for memory bias. Anxiety sensitivity was a poor predictor of the relevant bias scores. Several potential explanations for the obtained results are considered, including word emotionality and anxiety sensitivity. The most likely explanation seems to be one that challenges the interoceptive fear conceptualization of claustrophobia, but this will need to be confirmed by subsequent studies. Other considerations and directions for future research on competing models of claustrophobia are discussed.