British Journal of Clinical Psychology

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Volume 31 Issue 1 (February 1992), Pages 1-127

A search for contrast effects with fear evoking stimuli (pages 33-44)

The occurrence of fear contrast effects was investigated in a laboratory study of fearful people. A total of 65 university students were exposed on separate occasions to two fearful stimuli (spiders and snakes). The first exposure session was manipulated so that experimental groups differed in the amount of fear evoked by the stimulus (high fear, moderate fear and low fear). Exposure to the second animal was designed to produce a moderate level of fear in all subjects. During exposure to the animals, measures of subjective fear and heart rate were taken. Compared to a control group of subjects who experienced moderate fear on two occasions, a prior high fear experience led to a decrease in fear of the second stimulus, and a prior low fear experience led to an increase in fear of the second stimulus. The increase in fear in the latter group was evident in both subjective and physiological indices of fear, but in the high fear group the contrast was evident only in subjective fear.

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