Project

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Neural and somatovisceral processes associated with expectancy bias in spider phobia

Applicant Aue Tatjana
Number 121590
Funding scheme Ambizione
Research institution Dépt des Neurosciences Fondamentales Faculté de Médecine Université de Genève
Institution of higher education University of Geneva - GE
Main discipline Psychology
Start/End 01.01.2009 - 31.12.2011
Approved amount 508'662.00
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All Disciplines (4)

Discipline
Psychology
Physiology : other topics
Applied psychology
Neurophysiology and Brain Research

Keywords (9)

spider phobia; cognitive bias; fMRI; heart rate; electromyogram; skin conductance; skin temperature; threat; biological preparedness

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
The current project aims at a systematic investigation of biased expectations in spider phobia. The project brings two important innovations to the study of spider phobia. For the first time, two different forms of expectancy bias will be explicitly differentiated: spider phobics' overestimation of the likelihood to encounter spiders and their overestimation of the likelihood to incur aversive consequences of an encounter with a spider.
Another distinctive aspect of this research is its inclusion of a variety of different measures that include behavior as well as brain imaging (fMRI) and somatovisceral responses (heart rate, muscle activity, skin conductance, and skin temperature). Thus, the study of spider phobia will not be restricted to the assessment of global fear ratings or purely behavioral measures. Consequently, results from the proposed experiments will allow us to draw a more complete picture of the cognitive and physiological particularities in spider phobia.
Differences between phobia-related information processing and non-phobia-related information processing in spider phobic individuals, as well as differences between phobics and non-phobics will be systematically investigated. Results of these studies may have important implications for our understanding of basic fear-eliciting mechanisms in spider phobia.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Brain systems underlying expectancy bias in spider phobia
Aue Tatjana, Hoeppli Marie-Eve, Piguet Camille, Hofstetter Christoph, Rieger Sebastian W., Vuilleumier Patrik (2015), Brain systems underlying expectancy bias in spider phobia, in Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 15, 335.
Visual avoidance in phobia: Particularities in neural activity, autonomic responding, and cognitive risk evaluations
Aue Tatjana, Hoeppli Marie-Eve, Piguet Camille, Sterpenich Virginie, Vuilleumier Patrik (2013), Visual avoidance in phobia: Particularities in neural activity, autonomic responding, and cognitive risk evaluations, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 194.
Evidence for an encounter expectancy bias in fear of spiders
Aue Tatjana, Hoeppli Marie-Eve (2012), Evidence for an encounter expectancy bias in fear of spiders, in Cognition & emotion, 26, 727-736.
Brain systems underlying phobic responses and the effect of expectancies
Aue T, Hoeppli ME, Piguet C, Hofstetter C, Vuilleumier P (2011), Brain systems underlying phobic responses and the effect of expectancies, in PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGY, 48, S91-S91.
Sensitivity of somatovisceral responses to phobic fear intensity
Aue T, Hoeppli ME, Piguet C (2010), Sensitivity of somatovisceral responses to phobic fear intensity, in PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGY, 47, S86-S86.
Variations in visual attention influence autonomic but not respiratory and somatic responses to phobic stimuli
Aue T, Hoeppli ME, Piguet C, Sterpenich V (2010), Variations in visual attention influence autonomic but not respiratory and somatic responses to phobic stimuli, in INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGY, 77(3), 298-299.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Prof. Gerhard Stemmler; Philipps-Universität Marburg Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Prof. Paul Pauli; Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Dr. Hadas Okon-Singer Israel (Asia)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Annual Meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research Poster Brain systems underlying phobic responses and the effect of expectancies 14.09.2011 Boston, United States of America Aue Tatjana; Hoeppli Marie-Eve;
Annual Meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research Poster Sensitivity of somatovisceral responses to phobic fear intensity 02.09.2010 Portland, United States of America Aue Tatjana; Hoeppli Marie-Eve;
World Congress of Psychophysiology Poster Variations in visual attention influence autonomic but not respiratory and somatic responses to phobic stimuli 01.09.2010 Budapest, Hungary Aue Tatjana; Hoeppli Marie-Eve;
Annual meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research Talk given at a conference Brain activity reflects outcome desirability rather than specific types of outcomes 20.10.2009 Berlin, Germany Aue Tatjana;
First International Summer School in Affective Sciences Talk given at a conference Investigation of emotion using physiological data 24.09.2009 Chandolin, Switzerland Aue Tatjana;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Talks/events/exhibitions Interview as Young International Researcher International 2009
Media relations: radio, television Neurophysiologie de la peur RSR Western Switzerland 2009
Talks/events/exhibitions Portes Ouvertes Unige; Les émotions à fleur de peau Western Switzerland 2009

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
150492 Neurobiology of Optimism and Its Relation to Attention and Social Identification 01.03.2015 SNSF Professorships
140060 Neural and somatovisceral processes associated with expectancy bias in spider phobia 01.01.2012 Ambizione
140060 Neural and somatovisceral processes associated with expectancy bias in spider phobia 01.01.2012 Ambizione

Abstract

Spider fearfulness is common in the general population and spider phobia is one of the most frequent types of simple phobia. Therefore, the investigation of spider phobia is of particular interest for our society. To date, many studies have concentrated on distorted attention and memory processes in spider phobia and largely neglected distorted subjective expectations with respect to potential threat. The current project, therefore, aims at a systematic investigation of biased expectations in spider phobia. The project brings two important innovations to the study of spider phobia. For the first time, two different forms of expectancy bias will be explicitly differentiated: spider phobics’ overestimation of the likelihood to encounter spiders and their overestimation of the likelihood to incur aversive consequences of an encounter with a spider. Another distinctive aspect of this research is its inclusion of a variety of different measures that include behavior as well as brain imaging (fMRI) and somatovisceral responses (heart rate, muscle activity, skin conductance, and skin temperature). Thus, the study of spider phobia will not be restricted to the assessment of global fear ratings or purely behavioral measures. Consequently, results from the proposed experiments will allow us to draw a more complete picture of the cognitive and physiological particularities in spider phobia, which may also have implications for therapeutic settings.In four studies, spider phobic and spider non-phobic individuals will be presented with background information that allows them to estimate the overall likelihood that different kinds of animals (spiders, snakes, or birds) will be encountered (Experiments 1a and 1b) or that an encounter with them will have aversive consequences (Experiments 2a and 2b). In the first two experiments, background information consists of telling participants how frequently two different forest officials have encountered the different animals at different locations in the forest. In the two remaining experiments, the background information consists of telling participants how frequently two keepers in a zoo have been attacked by the animals. It is hypothesized that spider phobics, as compared with spider non-phobics, systematically overestimate the likelihood to encounter a spider as well as the negative consequences stemming from such encounters (i.e., that they more strongly orient their estimate towards the forest official with the greater frequency of encounter /the keeper who has been more frequently attacked).Moreover, it will be examined to what extent and in what form control and spider phobic participants differ in their expectancies and in the corresponding neural and somatovisceral processes. On the one hand, control participants may overestimate the danger stemming from potentially dangerous animals (spiders and snakes) as compared with usually less dangerous animals (birds), which would be in line with theories emphasizing the evolutionary origin of specific types of animal phobia. On the other hand, people are often characterized by wishful thinking, and wishful thinking has been postulated to be a precondition for good mental health. Therefore, it is possible that control participants have the tendency to underestimate the risk of threat in general (i.e., for all animals concerned). It is important to note, however, that these two views are not mutually exclusive. Even if individuals, on average, underestimate the risk of threat, it is conceivable that this concerns especially the less dangerous animals. In summary, the proposed studies aim at shedding light on the neural and somatovisceral underpinnings of expectancy bias in spider phobia. Differences between phobia-related information processing and non-phobia-related information processing in spider phobic individuals, as well as differences between phobics and non-phobics will be systematically investigated. Results of these studies may have important implications for our understanding of basic fear-eliciting mechanisms in spider phobia.
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