Effects of safety behaviors on fear reduction during exposure
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The use of safety behaviors has been considered one of the primary maintaining mechanisms of anxiety disorders; however, evidence suggests that they are not always detrimental to treatment success (Milosevic & Radomsky, 2008). This study examined the effects of safety behaviors on behavioral, cognitive, and subjective indicators of fear during exposure for fear of spiders. A two-stage design was used to examine fear reduction and approach distance during an in vivo exposure task for participants (N=43) assigned to either a safety behavior use (SBU) or no safety behavior use (NSB) condition. Overall, both groups reported significant and comparable reductions in self-reported anxiety and negative beliefs about spiders at posttest and 1-week follow-up. Participants in the SBU group approached the spider more quickly than did participants in the NSB condition; however, participants in the SBU condition showed a small but significant decrease in approach distance at follow-up. These results call for a reconceptualization of the impact of safety behaviors on in vivo exposure.
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