DECONSTRUCTING ACROPHOBIA: PHYSIOLOGICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL PRECURSORS TO DEVELOPING A FEAR OF HEIGHTS


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Abstract

Background:Acrophobia is one of the most prevalent phobias, affecting as many as 1 in 20 individuals. Of course, heights often evoke fear in the general population too, and this suggests that acrophobia might actually represent the hypersensitive manifestation of an everyday, rational fear. In this study, we assessed the role of sensory and cognitive variables in Acrophobia.Methods:Forty-five participants (Mean age 25.07 years, 71% female) were assessed using a booklet with self-reports as well as several behavioral measures. The data analysis consisted in multivariate linear regression using fear of heights as the outcome variable.Results:The regression analyses found that visual field dependence (measured with the rod and frame test), postural control (measured with the Sharpened Romberg Test), space and motion discomfort (measured with the Situational Characteristics Questionnaire), and bodily symptoms (measured with the Bodily Sensation Questionnaire) all serve as strong predictors for fear of heights (Adjusted r2=.697, P<.0001). Trait anxiety (measured with the State Trait Anxiety Inventory Form Y-2) was not related with fear of heights, suggesting that this higher order vulnerability factor is not necessary for explaining this particular specific phobia in a large number of individuals.Conclusion:The findings reveal that fear of heights is an expression of a largely sensory phenomena, which can produce strong feelings of discomfort and fear in the otherwise calm individuals. We propose a theory that embraces all these factors and provides new insight into the aetiology and treatment of this prevalent and debilitating fear.

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