Reducing avoidance in adults with high spider fear using perceptual discrimination training



Fear overgeneralization is a central feature of anxiety disorders and can lead to excessive avoidance. As perceptual discrimination is a key component of fear overgeneralization, a perceptual discrimination training task was created aimed at improving perceptual discrimination and reducing fear overgeneralization.


Participants with high spider fear were randomized into training or placebo conditions. After completing their assigned task, perceptual discrimination was tested. Thereafter, participants completed a behavioral avoidance test, consisting of five stimuli ranging from a paper spider to a live tarantula. Last, participants completed a threat/safety discrimination task using schematic morphs ranging from a flower to a spider, while self‐report and skin conductance responses were collected.


The training group showed better perceptual discrimination during the test than did the placebo group. Furthermore, as stimuli became increasingly similar to a live spider, participants in the training group exhibited decreased avoidance behavior. Finally, participants in the training group indicated that schematic morphs were less similar to a spider and showed less physiological arousal than did the placebo group.


Together, these results attest to the possible clinical relevance of the perceptual discrimination training.


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