The research uses chiefly arachnophobes and ophidiophobes. Among these groups of people, it is possible to trigger a reaction of fear by simply presenting a picture of the animal they have a phobia of.
This reaction quickly subsides when the picture is taken away. The physical reaction which is triggered can be simply compared with the physiological reaction which is triggered when pictures of other animals are presented.
Furthermore, by having the test subjects perform various tasks it is possible to study how performance is affected depending on the task, and whether there are differences in performance when comparing exposure to the animal they have a phobia of with exposure to other animals.
The early information processing
We are first and foremost interested in the early information processing and its effect on performance and physiological reactions.
In other words, what happens in the first 1000 milliseconds (i.e., in the first second) following presentation of a picture of a spider or snake to an arachnophobe or ophidiophobe? Does a person need a window of time to first become aware of what they are seeing in order to have a reaction of fear, or can information on what they fear be processed faster than the time it takes to be aware of what they are seeing? In what kind of tasks do people with phobias perform better when they see a picture of the animal they have a phobia of and in what kind of tasks do they perform worse?
Anders Flykt, Department of Social Work and Psychology, University of Gävle