Arachnophobia Smerachnophobia

Fear changes perception during encounters with feared object

/ Author: 

(RxWiki News) Fear is the emotional response to perceived threats, of course. Some fears are logical, while others are very irrational. We all have them, but why? Your fears may alter your perception more than you think.

People who are afraid of spiders were asked to interact with tarantulas. Interestingly, the more afraid of spiders the person was, the larger they perceived the tarantula to be.

While the fear of spiders may not have a direct impact on our daily lives, other fears that have health impacts can be better understood and treated through this research.

"Talk to your therapist about how to overcome your fears."

Michael Vasey, professor of psychology at Ohio State University, explains that “If one is afraid of spiders, and by virtue of being afraid of spiders one tends to perceive spiders as bigger than they really are, that may feed the fear, foster that fear, and make it difficult to overcome.”

The research could help develop treatments for those who are negatively affected by their fears.

“We're trying to understand why phobias persist so we can better target treatments to change those reasons they persist," says Vasey.

Fifty-seven people who had a self-proclaimed fear of spiders participated in the study. Over an 8 week period they interacted with 5 different live tarantulas. The participants were asked to approach the spider, which was housed in a glass tank, and manipulate it with an 8 inch probe.

During the interactions participants were asked how afraid they felt on a scale of 0-100. Afterwards they were asked to self-report on symptoms of anxiety, panic, and specific fears of spiders. They then estimated the size of the spiders by drawing a line to approximate its size.

The researchers found that higher ratings of distress, anxiety, and panic all related to a larger spider size estimate.

The research suggests that fear can actually alter perception of the feared object, making it very difficult for a person to overcome their fears.

The study was published in the Jan. 2012 edition of the Journal of Anxiety Disorders and was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. 

Last Updated:
February 24, 2012