What you cannot see can help you: the effect of exposure to unreportable stimuli on approach behavior

Conscious Cogn. 2011 Jun;20(2):173-80. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2011.01.003. Epub 2011 Feb 5.


We examined effects of exposure to unreportable images of spiders on approach towards a tarantula. Pretests revealed awareness of the stimuli was at chance. Participants high or low (top and bottom 15%) on fear of spiders were randomly assigned to receive computer-generated exposure to unreportable pictures of spiders or outdoor scenes. They then engaged in a Behavioral Approach Task (BAT) with a live tarantula. Non-fearful participants completed more BAT items than spider-fearful individuals. Additionally, as predicted, a significant interaction (F(1,48)=5.12, p<.03) between fear of spiders and stimulus demonstrated that spider-fearful participants exposed to spiders completed more BAT items than spider-fearful participants exposed to control stimuli (but not as many as non-fearful participants). The findings support the hypothesis that exposure to unreportable feared stimuli promotes approach towards the feared object. Future research and clinical implications were discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Awareness
  • Fear / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Implosive Therapy / methods*
  • Male
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology
  • Phobic Disorders / therapy*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Spiders
  • Subliminal Stimulation*
  • Visual Perception
  • Young Adult