- High-level cognition in phobics: Abstract anticipatory memory is associated with the attenuation of physiological reactivity to threat.
- Journal of Anxiety Disorders
- Volume | Issue number
- 13 | 5
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
Investigated whether the cognitive processing of threat in anxious individuals is dominated by abstract anticipatory memory, and whether this abstract memory mode is related to the incomplete activation of the fear network. Activation of the fear network was assessed during phobic exposure, as evidenced by the initial autonomic reaction. 47 females with spider phobia (mean age 32.1 yrs) and 46 controls (mean age 32.6 yrs) were presented with a threatening imagery script. Half of the Ss were exposed to a real-life spider. Spider phobics memorized relatively more abstract anticipatory descriptions than concrete sensory descriptions. Only in phobic Ss, higher recognition of abstract anticipatory descriptions was inversely related to heart rate reactivity during exposure. A preferential memory mode for abstract information was related to an attenuated heart rate reactivity to threat in spider phobics. It is suggested that the preferential memory mode for abstract information may inhibit the activation of the subcortical affective memory system. It is concluded that the absence of complete fear network activation may play a role in the persistence of anxiety disorders by hindering anxious individuals to learn that the stimuli they fear are not as dangerous as they assumed.
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