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Access to information about harm and safety in spider fearful and nonfearful individuals: when they were good they were very very good but when they were bad they were horrid

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 17:57 authored by Kate CavanaghKate Cavanagh, Graham Davey
This study tests two alternative hypotheses about how phobic information is processed in spider fearful and nonfearful individuals: (1) the threat-related cognitive set hypothesis and (2) the dimensions hypothesis. Counter to the traditional cognitive model of fear, the dimensions hypothesis predicts that spider fearful individuals tend to prioritise the harm-safety dimension when evaluating animal stimuli, and the consequent stretching of that evaluative dimension will confer advantage to the accessing of harm information when confronted with phobic stimuli, but conversely safety information when encountering FI stimuli. Spider fearful and nonfearful participants generated lists of reasons why spiders, fear relevant (e.g. tigers, snakes) and fear irrelevant (e.g. rabbits, kittens) animals might be harmful and might be safe. The findings indicate that, in comparison to a nonfearful group, spider fearful participants have facilitated access to both harm and safety information which is context dependent: spider fearful participants were able to generate more reasons why spiders may be harmful and fewer why they might be safe than nonfearful participants, but conversely were able to generate more reasons why fear irrelevant animals might by safe and fewer reasons why they might be harmful than the nonfearful group. The implications of these findings for our understanding of the cognitive mechanisms underlying fears and phobias are discussed.


Publication status

  • Published


Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry





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  • Psychology Publications

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Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

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