Viewing behaviour of spider phobics and non-phobics in the presence of threat and safety stimuli

WGT Lange, KJ Tierney, Anthony Reinhardt-Rutland, P Vivekananda-Schmidt

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)


    Objectives. To determine whether spider phobics and spider non-phobics differ in attending to threat and safety stimuli in close proximity, or spatially separated. Method. A sample group of 16 spider-phobic and 16 spider-non-phobic volunteers were drawn from a student population on the basis of their scores on Watts and Sharrock's Spider Phobia Questionnaire. Attention was assessed by way of participants' viewing behaviour using an ASL 501 head-mounted eye-tracking system. In a control condition, participants viewed a neutral stimulus (a TV video) in the absence of the threat stimulus. In two experimental conditions, the threat stimulus (a live Chilean rose tarantula) was introduced (a) immediately beside the safety stimulus (the only exit of the experimental room), or (b) away from the safety stimulus. Results. In the experimental conditions, phobics reduced their viewing of the TV and increased their viewing of the tarantula and of the exit; the biggest changes occurred when tarantula and exit were together. Phobics also made more eye motions across the experimental room. Conclusion. Our results are consistent with previous research employing reaction time to a neutral stimulus as dependent measure. In addition, our results suggest that phobics scan the environment as part of safety behaviour. We suggest that exposure treatments to reduce spider phobia may be facilitated by encouraging patients to stop environmental scanning.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)235-243
    JournalBritish Journal of Clinical Psychology
    Issue numberPart 3
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Sept 2004


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