EVENT-RELATED POTENTIALS AND VISUAL AVOIDANCE IN BLOOD PHOBICS: IS THERE ANY ATTENTIONAL BIAS?†

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Abstract

The possible presence of processing biases for threat-relevant information in blood-injection-injury phobia has been largely neglected in the literature. This issue was addressed by recording the late components (P300 and slow waves) of event-related potentials (ERPs) in the context of affective picture perception, as indicators of processing resources allocation. Blood phobics and healthy controls were shown threat-relevant, emotional threat-irrelevant, and neutral pictures. Free viewing time (VT) was measured as an index of voluntary visual avoidance, along with self-reports of pleasantness and arousal. No group differences as a function of picture content emerged for ERPs. Blood phobics spent less time viewing mutilations than did controls, but they did not show a clear-cut visual avoidance. As expected, individuals with phobias rated blood-related pictures as more unpleasant and arousing relative to controls. ERP results are in line with the limited behavioral data in the literature in demonstrating that blood phobics do not show an attentional bias toward threat-relevant stimuli.

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