Less Is Still More: Maintenance of the Very Brief Exposure Effect 1 Year Later

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Abstract

This study tested the hypothesis that an immediate effect of exposure to masked phobic stimuli on avoidance of the corresponding feared object would be maintained 1 year later. Fifty-three spider-phobic participants were identified with a questionnaire and a Behavioral Avoidance Test (BAT) with a live tarantula. One week later, they were administered 1 of 3 types of exposure: very brief (25-ms, masked) or clearly visible (125-ms, unmasked) images of spiders, or very brief images of flowers. They engaged in the BAT again immediately thereafter. One year later, they returned for a follow-up BAT. The immediate effect of exposure to very brief spiders on reducing avoidance of the tarantula was still evident 1 year later. Endurance of an effect by masked stimuli of this duration has not been reported before. Potential theoretical implications are discussed.

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