The effects of safety-seeking behavior and guided threat reappraisal on fear reduction during exposure: an experimental investigation

Behav Res Ther. 2002 Mar;40(3):235-51. doi: 10.1016/s0005-7967(01)00007-9.


We examined the effects of safety-seeking behavior and guided threat focus and reappraisal on fear reduction during exposure. Participants (N=46) displaying marked claustrophobic fear were randomized to one of three 30-min exposure conditions: (a) guided threat focus and reappraisal; (b) safety-behavior utilization; or (c) exposure only control. Tripartite outcome assessments during a behavioral approach test, along with measures of suffocation and restriction fears were obtained at pre- and post-treatment, and at a 2-week follow-up. Treatment process measures were collected throughout treatment and consisted of indices of fear activation; within and between-trial fear habituation; and suffocation and entrapment expectancies. Measures of safety behavior utilization and attentional focus were also collected to assess the integrity of the experimental manipulations. Consistent with prediction, those encouraged to utilize safety-behaviors during exposure showed significantly more fear at post-treatment and follow-up relative to those encouraged to focus and reevaluate their core threat(s) during exposure. Moreover, growth curve analyses of treatment process data analyses revealed that safety-behavior utilization exerted a detrimental effect on between-trial habituation; whereas guided threat reappraisal enhanced between-trial habituation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology*
  • Phobic Disorders / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome