Scientific article
Open access

Visual avoidance in phobia: particularities in neural activity, autonomic responding, and cognitive risk evaluations

Published inFrontiers in human neuroscience, vol. 7, 194
Publication date2013

We investigated the neural mechanisms and the autonomic and cognitive responses associated with visual avoidance behavior in spider phobia. Spider phobic and control participants imagined visiting different forest locations with the possibility of encountering spiders, snakes, or birds (neutral reference category). In each experimental trial, participants saw a picture of a forest location followed by a picture of a spider, snake, or bird, and then rated their personal risk of encountering these animals in this context, as well as their fear. The greater the visual avoidance of spiders that a phobic participant demonstrated (as measured by eye tracking), the higher were her autonomic arousal and neural activity in the amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and precuneus at picture onset. Visual avoidance of spiders in phobics also went hand in hand with subsequently reduced cognitive risk of encounters. Control participants, in contrast, displayed a positive relationship between gaze duration toward spiders, on the one hand, and autonomic responding, as well as OFC, ACC, and precuneus activity, on the other hand. In addition, they showed reduced encounter risk estimates when they looked longer at the animal pictures. Our data are consistent with the idea that one reason for phobics to avoid phobic information may be grounded in heightened activity in the fear circuit, which signals potential threat. Because of the absence of alternative efficient regulation strategies, visual avoidance may then function to down-regulate cognitive risk evaluations for threatening information about the phobic stimuli. Control participants, in contrast, may be characterized by a different coping style, whereby paying visual attention to potentially threatening information may help them to actively down-regulate cognitive evaluations of risk.

Citation (ISO format)
AUE SEIL, Tatjana et al. Visual avoidance in phobia: particularities in neural activity, autonomic responding, and cognitive risk evaluations. In: Frontiers in human neuroscience, 2013, vol. 7, p. 194. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00194
Main files (1)
Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal1662-5161

Technical informations

Creation11/22/2013 10:03:00 AM
First validation11/22/2013 10:03:00 AM
Update time03/14/2023 8:56:52 PM
Status update03/14/2023 8:56:52 PM
Last indexation08/29/2023 10:26:30 AM
All rights reserved by Archive ouverte UNIGE and the University of GenevaunigeBlack