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J Anxiety Disord. 2009 Apr;23(3):381-6. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2008.12.002. Epub 2008 Dec 9.

Imagery and fear influence height perception.

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Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, P.O.Box 400400, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4400, USA.


The current study tested whether height overestimation is related to height fear and influenced by images of falling. To assess perceptual biases, participants high (n=65) versus low (n=64) in height fear estimated the vertical extents of two balconies using a visual matching task. On one of the balconies, participants engaged in an imagery exercise designed to enhance the subjective sense that they were acting in a dangerous environment by picturing themselves falling. As expected, we found that individuals overestimated the balcony's height more after they imagined themselves falling, particularly if they were already afraid of heights. These findings suggest that height fear may serve as a vulnerability factor that leads to perceptual biases when triggered by a stressor (in this case, images of falling).

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