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Andrea Reinecke, Mike Rinck, Eni S. Becker; Keeping an eye on the spider in the corner: Biased visual working memory in phobic anxiety — a change detection paradigm. Journal of Vision 2006;6(6):368. doi: 10.1167/6.6.368.
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Background: According to cognitive theories of anxiety, cognitive processes play a significant role in the etiology and maintenance of phobic disorders. Many studies revealed enhanced attention to the feared object and greater distractibility by it. Results regarding memory biases in anxiety are very incoherent. Only a few studies investigated the effects of threat on visual-working memory (VWM), and apparently no study examined VWM for feared objects in phobics. Methods: In Experiment 1, 25 spider-fearfuls (SF) and 25 controls (NAC) were tested with an adaptation of the VWM-method introduced by Luck & Vogel (1997). We used complex objects, one of which depicted a spider. Subjects had to indicate whether two successively shown displays were identical or different. We varied display size (4,6,8), threat (neutral, spider) and encoding time (100ms, 500ms). In experiment 2, 25 SF and 25 NAC, both without fear of snakes, were tested. In three blocks, we varied the valence of the critical stimulus: it was either a spider, a snake, or a butterfly. Thereby, we sought to determine whether any group effects observed in Experiment 1 were merely due to a general threat effect or physical characteristics of the critical stimulus. Results: SF showed enhanced VWM compared to NAC when a spider was shown within the display. There were no group differences in the snake or butterfly condition. Discussion: The results will be discussed against the background of voluntary vs. reflexive attention and memory consolidation.
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