Autonomic Reactivity to Threatening Images as a Function of Relevance
AbstractAnxiety is among the most prevalent psychological conditions affecting 31% of adults in the United States (National Institute of Mental Health, 2019). Thus, it is important to identify the factors that contribute to anxiety and perhaps the development of anxiety disorders. One important factor that must be considered is how relevant a potential or real threat is to an individual. The theory of threat-relevance proposes that fear stimuli considered relevant to the individual will capture the individual’s attention and/or activate a fear response (De Oca & Black, 2013; Fox et al., 2007). On the other hand, biological theories propose that evolutionary stimuli preferentially activate the fear system due to their threat to human survival (Ohman & Mineka, 2001; Seligman, 1970) . Such disparate positions in the literature strongly suggest a need for more research in the area of threat relevance that examines biological, cultural, and social variables. The purpose of this study is to clarify and extend our understanding of the role relevance plays in triggering anxiety. Participants viewed evolutionarily based (i.e., snakes, spiders) and culturally based threatening images (i.e., guns, knives) while autonomic arousal (electrodermal activity and heart rate) was measured. Participants rated the relevance, valence, and arousal of each image, and completed a self-report measure of anxiety. We found that EDA amplitudes were higher for evolutionary threats than cultural threats, but only when cultural images were viewed first. However, heart rate was similar for both threat types regardless of the order. Cultural threats were found to be more arousing and less pleasant than evolutionary threats. Relevance was not correlated to EDA or HR responses; however, relevance was correlated with the valence and arousal ratings of each image. Relevance was also not correlated to participants’ self-reported trait anxiety. These results indicate that further research is necessary to understand how threat relevance impacts threat responses.
AffiliationDepartment of Psychological Sciences
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