Project

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Neural and somatovisceral processes associated with expectancy bias in spider phobia

Applicant Aue Tatjana
Number 140060
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 01.01.2012 - 31.12.2013
Approved amount 408'950.00
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All Disciplines (4)

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

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

The current project aims at a systematic investigation of biased expectations in spider phobia by studying behavior as well as brain activity/connectivity (fMRI) and somatovisceral responses (e.g., heart rate, skin conductance, and respiration). Results from the already conducted and still to be conducted experiments will allow us to draw a more complete picture of the cognitive and physiological particularities in spider phobia, and may have implications for therapeutic applications.

            The first studies conducted in this project investigated biased expectancies as regards the frequency of encounters with phobogenic stimulus material (see 2.2 State of personal research in the field, for details) and revealed some important divergences in cognitive processing between phobics and normal controls. Moreover, these particularities were clearly reflected in brain activity. Amongst other things it was demonstrated that spider-phobic participants systematically overestimated the likelihood of encountering a spider with respect to the likelihood of encountering a snake or a bird. What is more, in phobics, activity in various structures belonging to the default network (dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, inferior parietal cortex, and precuneus; e.g., Raichle & Snyder, 2007) decreased with increasing subjective risk of encountering spiders, suggesting perturbance of self-related processing during confrontations with spiders. Such a perturbance could be the reason of deficient self-regulation in spider phobia.

            Another experiment investigated the application of two different cognitive strategies (e.g., emphasizing that something is happening in real versus not) and how these expectancies modulate the influence of guided attentional deployment on fear intensity. Interestingly, preliminary data of this study suggest that voluntary control of expectancies (real versus not real) may be inefficient in spider phobia. For this reason, a third study examined the efficiency of different types of cognitive strategies to modify expectancies (visual versus verbal versus physiological strategies); its data remain to be analyzed.

                In a potential extension of this project, I now would like to study the interplay between two important biases observed in specific phobia – the expectancy bias and the attention bias. These two biases have, so far, been investigated independently from each other. Specifically, it is hypothesized that an individual’s expectancies concerning frequencies and consequences of confrontations with threatening stimuli could sensitize the individual for certain types of stimuli. Such a mechanism, may then lead the individual to engage in active search and guide his/her attention to evidence in the environment that supports the already existent expectancies. On the other hand, it is also possible that abnormality related to attention leads to different expectations or even that the link between expectancy bias and attention bias is bi-directional. The proposed research addresses the possible existence and causality of a link between expectancies and attention in spider phobia and employs behavioral, neural, and somatovisceral measures.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Neurocognitive mechanisms modulating attention bias in anxiety: Current perspectives
Okon-Singer Hadas, Aue Tatjana (2017), Neurocognitive mechanisms modulating attention bias in anxiety: Current perspectives, in Biological Psychology, 122, 1-3.
Determinants and associations of threat-related cognitive biases: Cognitive and neurophysiological perspectives
Aue Tatjana, Okon-SingerHadas (2016), Determinants and associations of threat-related cognitive biases: Cognitive and neurophysiological perspectives, in Biological Psychology, 121, 125-127.
Expectancy influences on attention to threat are only weak and transient: Behavioral and physiological evidence
Aue Tatjana, Chauvigné Léa A. S., Bristle Mirko, Okon-Singer Hadas, Guex Raphaël (2016), Expectancy influences on attention to threat are only weak and transient: Behavioral and physiological evidence, in Biological Psychology, 121, 173-186.
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.
Expectancy biases in fear and anxiety and their link to biases in attention
Aue Tatjana, Okon-Singer Hadas (2015), Expectancy biases in fear and anxiety and their link to biases in attention, in Clinical Psychology Review, 42, 83.
Varying expectancies and the attention bias in phobic and nonphobic individuals
Aue Tatjana, Guex Raphael, Chauvigné Léa A. S., Okon-Singer Hadas (2013), Varying expectancies and the attention bias in phobic and nonphobic individuals, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 418.
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.
The sensitivity of physiological measures to phobic and non-phobic fear intensity
Aue Tatjana, Hoeppli Marie-Eve, Piguet Camille (2012), The sensitivity of physiological measures to phobic and non-phobic fear intensity, in Journal of Psychophysiology, 26, 154-167.
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 and Emotion, 26, 727-736.
Expectancies influence attention to neutral but not necessarily to threatening stimuli: An fMRI study
Aue Tatjana, Guex Raphaël, Chauvigné Léa A. S., Okon-Singer Hadas, Vuilleumier Patrik, Expectancies influence attention to neutral but not necessarily to threatening stimuli: An fMRI study, in Emotion.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
McGill University Canada (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Philipps-Universität Marburg Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Max Planck Institute Leipzig Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Charité Berlin Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Centre Interfacultaire en Sciences Affectives/University of Geneva Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
McMaster University Canada (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
University of Haifa Israel (Asia)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
LabNIC-Neurology and Imaging of Cognition/University of Geneva Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Conference of the European Society for Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (ESCAN) Talk given at a conference The interplay of expectancies and attention in the processing of threat: Evidence from behavior, fMRI, and autonomic nervous system activity 23.06.2016 Porto, Portugal Aue Tatjana;
Annual Meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research (SPR) Talk given at a conference Expectancy and attention biases and their association: Neural and behavioral evidence 02.10.2013 Florenz, Italy Aue Tatjana;
Kongress der Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für Psychologie Talk given at a conference Brain mechanisms underlying expectancy bias in phobic fear 11.09.2013 Basel, Switzerland Aue Tatjana;
Kongress der Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für Psychologie Talk given at a conference Visual avoidance in spider phobia 11.09.2013 Basel, Switzerland Aue Tatjana;
Meeting of the European Society for Cognitive Psychology Talk given at a conference Emotion regulation by variations in attention 01.09.2013 Budapest, Hungary Aue Tatjana;
Tagung Psychologie und Gehirn of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychologie (DGP) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychophysiologie und ihre Anwendung (DGPA) Poster Neural and cognitive correlates of visual avoidance in phobic and non-phobic fear 30.05.2013 Würzburg, Germany, Germany Aue Tatjana;
Joint Annual Research Day of the Brain and Behavior Laboratory and the Centre d'Imagerie BioMédicale Talk given at a conference Neural processes associated with deviated expectancies and attention in spider phobia 22.05.2013 Genf, Switzerland Guex Raphaël Arthur; Chauvigné Léa; Aue Tatjana;
Annual Meeting of the Swiss Society for Neuroscience Poster Neural correlates of visual avoidance in phobic and non-phobic fear 02.02.2013 Geneva, Switzerland Aue Tatjana;
Invited Talk; University of Würzburg Individual talk Facets of spider phobia: Cognitive, neural, somatovisceral, and behavioral components 28.06.2012 Würzburg, Germany Aue Tatjana;
Alpine Brain Imaging Meeting Poster Brain systems underlying phobic responses and the effect of expectancies 08.01.2012 Champéry, Schweiz, Switzerland Aue Tatjana;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: print media, online media Phobiker leben in ständiger Angst 20 Minuten German-speaking Switzerland 2012

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
121590 Neural and somatovisceral processes associated with expectancy bias in spider phobia 01.01.2009 Ambizione
150492 Neurobiology of Optimism and Its Relation to Attention and Social Identification 01.03.2015 SNSF Professorships
121590 Neural and somatovisceral processes associated with expectancy bias in spider phobia 01.01.2009 Ambizione
145631 The Fear Inside Us 01.07.2013 Agora

Abstract

The current project aims at a systematic investigation of biased expectations in spider phobia by studying behavior as well as brain activity/connectivity (fMRI) and somatovisceral responses (e.g., heart rate, skin conductance, and respiration). Results from the already conducted and still to be conducted experiments will allow us to draw a more complete picture of the cognitive and physiological particularities in spider phobia, and may have implications for therapeutic applications.The first studies conducted in this project investigated biased expectancies as regards the frequency of encounters with phobogenic stimulus material (see 2.2 State of personal research in the field, for details) and revealed some important divergences in cognitive processing between phobics and normal controls. Moreover, these particularities were clearly reflected in brain activity. Amongst other things it was demonstrated that spider-phobic participants systematically overestimated the likelihood of encountering a spider with respect to the likelihood of encountering a snake or a bird. What is more, in phobics, activity in various structures belonging to the default network (dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, inferior parietal cortex, and precuneus; e.g., Raichle & Snyder, 2007) decreased with increasing subjective risk of encountering spiders, suggesting perturbance of self-related processing during confrontations with spiders. Such a perturbance could be the reason of deficient self-regulation in spider phobia. Another experiment investigated the application of two different cognitive strategies (e.g., emphasizing that something is happening in real versus not) and how these expectancies modulate the influence of guided attentional deployment on fear intensity. Interestingly, preliminary data of this study suggest that voluntary control of expectancies (real versus not real) may be inefficient in spider phobia. For this reason, a third study examined the efficiency of different types of cognitive strategies to modify expectancies (visual versus verbal versus physiological strategies); its data remain to be analyzed.In a potential extension of this project, I now would like to study the interplay between two important biases observed in specific phobia - the expectancy bias and the attention bias. These two biases have, so far, been investigated independently from each other. Specifically, it is hypothesized that an individual’s expectancies concerning frequencies and consequences of confrontations with threatening stimuli could sensitize the individual for certain types of stimuli. Such a mechanism, may then lead the individual to engage in active search and guide his/her attention to evidence in the environment that supports the already existent expectancies. On the other hand, it is also possible that abnormality related to attention leads to different expectations or even that the link between expectancy bias and attention bias is bi-directional. The proposed research addresses the possible existence and causality of a link between expectancies and attention in spider phobia and employs behavioral, neural, and somatovisceral measures. The research is to be conducted in close collaboration with an established researcher in the area of attention bias - Dr. Hadas Okon-Singer from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig.
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