Expectancy Bias for Fear and Disgust and Behavioral Avoidance in Spider Fearful Individuals

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Abstract

The study examines the relationship between fear and disgust-related expectancies of covariation and avoidance in spider fearful individuals. Participants high (n = 22) and low (n = 28) in spider fear were asked to rate the probability that spider pictures, disgust-relevant pictures (e.g., rotting foods and body products), and neutral pictures (e.g., tools and appliances) would be followed by one of three possible outcomes: fear, disgust, or neutral facial expressions. Participants then engaged in a behavioral avoidance task (BAT) that required them to approach and open a black box containing a spider that was placed 13 feet away. No significant differences between high and low spider fearful participants were found for expectancies for the spider picture—fear expression pairings. However, the high spider fear participants reported significantly higher expectancies than low spider fear participants for the spider picture—disgust expression pairings. Conversely, the low spider fear group reported significantly higher expectancies than the high spider fear participants for the spider picture—neutral expression pairings. Furthermore, higher expectancies for the disgust expression to be paired with spider pictures were significantly associated with avoidance on the BAT. These findings provide additional support for the role of disgust in spider phobia.

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