Reducing attention bias in spider fear by manipulating expectancies
The present series of studies examines the causal interaction between expectancy and attention biases in spider fear. Previous studies found that a-priori expectancy does not affect attention bias toward spiders, as measured by detection of spider targets in a subsequent visual search array compared to detection of bird targets (i.e. neutral targets) that appeared equally often. In the present series of studies, target frequency was manipulated. Targets were preceded by a verbal cue stating the
... bal cue stating the likelihood that a certain target would appear. The aim was to examine whether manipulation of expectancies toward either target affects attention bias. In Experiment 1, birds appeared more frequently than spiders. Among a representative sample of the student population, attention bias toward spiders was significantly reduced. Experiment 2 replicated these results with both low-and high-fearful participants. In Experiment 3, spiders appeared more frequently than birds. Attention bias was reduced among low-and high-fearful groups, but not as strongly as the reduction in Experiments 1 and 2. These results suggest that target salience plays a role in attention bias, in competition with expectancy. To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that varying expectancy can reduce attention bias, most importantly in high fear.