Varying expectancies and attention bias in phobic and non-phobic individuals.

Aue, Tatjana; Guex, Raphaël; Chauvigné, Léa A S; Okon-Singer, Hadas (2013). Varying expectancies and attention bias in phobic and non-phobic individuals. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 7(418), p. 418. Frontiers Research Foundation 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00418

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Phobic individuals display an attention bias to phobia-related information and biased expectancies regarding the likelihood of being faced with such stimuli. Notably, although attention and expectancy biases are core features in phobia and anxiety disorders, these biases have mostly been investigated separately and their causal impact has not been examined. We hypothesized that these biases might be causally related. Spider phobic and low spider fearful control participants performed a visual search task in which they specified whether the deviant animal in a search array was a spider or a bird. Shorter reaction times (RTs) for spiders than for birds in this task reflect an attention bias toward spiders. Participants' expectancies regarding the likelihood of these animals being the deviant in the search array were manipulated by presenting verbal cues. Phobics were characterized by a pronounced and persistent attention bias toward spiders; controls displayed slower RTs for birds than for spiders only when spider cues had been presented. More important, we found RTs for spider detections to be virtually unaffected by the expectancy cues in both groups, whereas RTs for bird detections showed a clear influence of the cues. Our results speak to the possibility that evolution has formed attentional systems that are specific to the detection of phylogenetically salient stimuli such as threatening animals; these systems may not be as penetrable to variations in (experimentally induced) expectancies as those systems that are used for the detection of non-threatening stimuli. In sum, our findings highlight the relation between expectancies and attention engagement in general. However, expectancies may play a greater role in attention engagement in safe environments than in threatening environments.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Psychological and Behavioral Health
07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology

UniBE Contributor:

Aue, Tatjana


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology
600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health




Frontiers Research Foundation


[UNSPECIFIED] Swiss National Science Foundation




Tatjana Aue Seil

Date Deposited:

24 Aug 2015 11:50

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:49

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

attention bias; biological preparedness; expectancy bias; fear; phobia; spiders




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