Science of Fear


Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula

Spiders are known to elicit fear and anxiety in some people. This makes spiders useful for studies of therapy to help people overcome feelings of fear and anxiety.

A group of scientists selected for study a group of college students who reported a fear of spiders. The subjects were placed in a room containing a Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula at a distance of 10 steps. The trial consisted of an exposure followed by a request to move forward to the next step. The  number of steps the students took and if they were willing to touch the spider with a cotton swab were used to gage the degree of anxiety.

After the trial, one group watched a video that extolled the virtues of spiders and their ecological role. The other group watch a video unrelated to spiders. The trial was then repeated. The study found that repeated exposure to the spider made people less afraid: they advanced a greater number of steps with each trial. The video with positive info about spiders further lowered anxiety. Those watching the spider video exhibited less fear than the group that did not watch it.  The conclusion: exposure therapy combined with positive information about spiders could lessen the fear of spiders.

*Halina J. Dour, Lily A. Brown, Michelle G. Craske. Positive valence reduces susceptibility to return of fear and enhances approach behavior, Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, Volume 50, March 2016, Pages 277-282.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in behavior, by jjneal, Health. Bookmark the permalink.

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