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J Abnorm Psychol. 1994 May;103(2):231-40.

"Unconscious anxiety": phobic responses to masked stimuli.

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Department of Clinical Psychology, Uppsala University, Sweden.


We tested the hypothesis that an unconscious preattentive perceptual analysis of phobic stimuli is sufficient to elicit human fear responses. Selected snake- and spider-fearful Ss, as well as normal controls, were exposed to pictures of snakes, spiders, flowers, and mushrooms. A separate forced-choice recognition experiment established backward masking conditions that effectively precluded recognition of experimental stimuli both for fearful and nonfearful Ss. In the main experiment, these conditions were used to compare skin conductance responses (SCRs) to masked and nonmasked phobic and control pictures among fearful and nonfearful Ss. In support of the hypotheses, snake- and spider-fearful Ss showed elevated SCRs to snake and spider pictures as compared with neutral pictures and with responses of the nonfearful Ss under both masking conditions. Ratings of valence, arousal, and dominance indicated that the fearful Ss felt more negative, more aroused, and less dominant in relation to both masked and nonmasked phobic stimuli.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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