Some animal specific fears are more specific than others: Evidence from attention and emotion measures

Behav Res Ther. 2009 Dec;47(12):1032-42. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2009.07.022. Epub 2009 Aug 6.


Using a visual search methodology we investigated the effect of feared animal stimuli on attention. Our results confirmed the important role of emotion on attention. All participants detected fear-relevant stimuli (snakes and spiders) faster than neutral (mushrooms) ones against a background of fruits. In addition, spider fearful participants were sensitized specifically to detect their feared stimulus (spiders), compared to their fear-relevant but non-feared (snakes) and neutral stimuli. However, for participants fearful of snakes there was no significant difference in detection latencies between the feared (snakes) and the fear-relevant but non-feared animal stimuli (spiders). The results from the attention task were mirrored in the emotional ratings, which showed that spider fear was highly specific, whereas snake fear was associated with a more generalized enhanced evaluation of all negative stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Attention*
  • Emotions*
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time
  • Snakes
  • Spiders
  • Visual Perception