Effect of distraction and coping style on in vivo exposure for specific phobia of spiders
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Recent studies have generated mixed findings regarding the effects of distraction on exposure-based treatments. Results have also been inconsistent regarding the effects of monitoring and blunting coping styles on outcome. The present study attempted to integrate these two areas of research. We hypothesized that the effect of distraction on treatment outcome might depend on coping style. Specifically, we predicted that for blunters (i.e.. individuals who tend to avoid threat-related information), distraction would interfere with the effects of exposure. However, we predicted that distraction might benefit monitors (i.e., individuals who tend to seek out threat-related information). Sixty individuals with a specific phobia of spiders underwent a single, two-hour session of exposure treatment. During the first hour, half of the participants were distracted by listening to an audiotape and the other half underwent exposure without distraction. In the second hour, all participants underwent focused exposure. Based on measures of heart rate, subjective fear, and behavioral testing, participants improved after one hour of treatment, and improved further during the second hour. However, neither distraction, coping style, nor their interaction had a significant effect on outcome. The present study provides support for the benefits of behavioral treatment for specific phobias. However, our hypotheses regarding distraction and coping style were not confirmed.
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