Fear of Spiders Clinical Trial
Neural Mechanisms of Imaginal and in Vivo Exposure: Exploring the Differences Between Imaginal and in Vivo Exposure, Using fMRI and Psychophysiology
Imaginal exposure is a widely used and effective psychological treatment technique. Recent research suggests that neural activations and emotional responses during imaginal exposure are similar to those elicited during in vivo exposure. However, to the investigators knowledge, no direct comparison between in vivo and imaginal exposure has been performed during neuroimaging. This study compares neural activations and emotional responses during imaginal and in vivo exposure. This study also explores the generalizability of fear reduction achieved through imaginal exposure to fear responses elicited by in vivo stimuli, and vice versa, in a follow-up session approximately one week later. A better understanding of the mechanisms behind both types of exposure could have significant clinical utility, as well as elucidate the differences between fear created from outward stimuli and fear created from inward stimuli, such as mental imagery.
The study includes participants fearful of spiders and entails two experimental sessions, roughly one week apart. The first session includes brain imaging using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). During the first session, participants will be randomized into one of two conditions - in vivo exposure or imaginal exposure. In the in vivo exposure condition, participants will be shown video clips of spiders (fearful stimuli) and leaves (neutral stimuli) in different situations. In the imaginal exposure condition, participants will be instructed to produce mental imagery of the corresponding stimuli used for in vivo exposure. Previous research found that the brief exposure procedure used during session 1 produced a fear reduction when the procedure was repeated one week later. Thus, in order to conceptually replicate this finding, and to examine the generalizability of fear reduction, participants return roughly one week later for a follow-up session. In the follow-up session, participants undergo a similar exposure procedure as used in session 1, but with half of the stimuli in vivo and the other half of the stimuli as mental imagery. In this way, it can be studied whether fear reduction generalize from exposure modality to another. The effects of imaginal and in vivo exposure on avoidance behavior towards fear-provoking stimuli (spiders) will also be assessed using an approach-avoidance conflict paradigm, using pictures of spiders to probe spider fear. The current study will also explore the impact of mental imagery vividness during imaginal exposure on fear reduction. Additionally, the study will assess if vividness level can predict the generalizability of the effects of imaginal exposure to fear-provoking stimuli (mental imagery of a spider) on subsequent fear responses to to in vivo stimuli (film clip of a spider) one week later. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (7T) is used to measure neural activations (session 1). Skin conductance is used to measure arousal response (session 1 & 2). Subjective fear and mental imagery vividness ratings will also be collected. ;
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