Rapid Temporal Accumulation in Spider Fear: Evidence From Hierarchical Drift Diffusion Modelling

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Fear can distort sense of time—making time seem slow or even stand still. Here, I used hierarchical drift diffusion modeling (HDDM; Vandekerckhove, Tuerlinckx, & Lee, 2008, 2011; Wiecki, Sofer, & Frank, 2013) to test the idea that temporal accumulation speeds up during fear. Eighteen high fearful and 23 low fearful participants judged the duration of both feared stimuli (spiders) and nonfeared stimuli (birds) in a temporal bisection task. The drift diffusion modeling results support the main hypothesis. In high but not low fearful individuals, evidence accumulated more rapidly toward a long duration decision—drift rates were higher—for spiders compared with birds. This result and further insights into how fear affects time perception would not have been possible on the basis of analyses of choice proportion data alone. Further results were interpreted in the context of a recent 2-stage model of time perception (Balcı & Simen, 2014). The results highlight the usefulness of diffusion modeling to test process-based explanations of disordered cognition in emotional disorders.

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