Event-related potentials when identifying or color-naming threatening schematic stimuli in spider phobic and non-phobic individuals

Kolassa, Iris-Tatjana; Musial, Frauke; Kolassa, Stephan; Miltner, Wolfgang H. R.
January 2006
BMC Psychiatry;2006, Vol. 6, p38
Academic Journal
Background: Previous studies revealed increased parietal late positive potentials (LPPs) in response to spider pictures in spider phobic individuals. This study searched for basic features of fear-relevant stimuli by investigating whether schematic spider images are sufficient to evoke differential behavioral as well as differential early and late ERP responses in spider phobic, social phobic (as a clinical control group), and non-phobic control participants. Methods: Behavioral and electrophysiological correlates of the processing of schematic spider and flower images were investigated while participants performed a color (emotional Stroop) and an object identification task. Stimuli were schematic pictures of spiders and flowers matched with respect to constituting visual elements. Results: Consistent with previous studies using photographic spider pictures, spider phobic persons showed enhanced LPPs when identifying schematic spiders compared to schematic flowers. In addition, spider phobic individuals showed generally faster responses than the control groups. This effect was interpreted as evidence for an increased general behavioral hypervigilance in this anxiety disorder group. Furthermore, both phobic groups showed enhanced P100 amplitudes compared to controls, which was interpreted as evidence for an increased (cortical) hypervigilance for incoming stimuli in phobic patients in general. Finally, all groups showed faster identification of and larger N170 amplitudes in response to schematic spider than flower pictures. This may reflect either a general advantage for fear-relevant compared to neutral stimuli, or might be due to a higher level of expertise in processing schematic spiders as compared to the more artificially looking flower stimuli. Conclusion: Results suggest that schematic spiders are sufficient to prompt differential responses in spider-fearful and spider-non-fearful persons in late ERP components. Early ERP components, on the other hand, seem to be modified by anxiety status per se, which is consistent with recent theories on general hypervigilance in the anxiety disorder spectrum.


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