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Meghan Hickey, Vladislav Ayzenberg, Stella Lourenco; Can pupillometry dissociate fear and disgust? Trypophobia as a test case. . Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):1335. doi: 10.1167/16.12.1335.
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© 2017 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.
Anxiety in response to objects with a cluster of holes has come to be known as trypophobia, and recent research suggests that such objects share low-level visual properties with evolutionarily threating stimuli, namely snakes and spiders (Cole & Wilkins, 2013). The current consensus is that, like snakes and spiders, the anxiety associated with holes is rooted in fear. However, self-reports from individuals with tryophobia suggest that anxiety may instead reflect a disgust reaction. Fear and disgust are difficult to disambiguate behaviorally because both involve an avoidance response (Granholm & Steinhauer, 2004). In the current study, we used pupillometry to test whether trypophobia is rooted in fear versus disgust. We predicted that if trypophobic stimuli elicited fear, then they should invoke a sympathetic response, which is associated with pupil dilation; alternatively, if trypophobic stimuli elicited disgust, then they should invoke a parasympathetic response, which is associated with pupil constriction (Granholm & Steinhauer, 2004). Thirty-six adult participants passively viewed a slideshow of trypophobic images (e.g., lotus seed pod, sponge), neutral images (e.g., cup), and threatening images (i.e., snakes and spiders). Presentation order was randomized and each trial consisted of a neutral gray screen (6 s) followed by an image (6 s). All images were grayscaled and equated for luminance. Analyses revealed that trypophobic images elicited significant pupil constriction relative to threatening and neutral images (ps < 0.001), suggesting a disgust, not fear, response. However, because of the fine-grained spatial detail of trypophobic stimuli, an alternative possibility is that constriction resulted from pupil foveation. We are currently testing this possibility by comparing trypophobic and non-trypophobic images with comparable spatial properties.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016
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