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Keywords:

  • priming;
  • courage;
  • contrast effects;
  • automaticity;
  • spider fear;
  • psychological intervention

Objective

Recently, researchers have called for therapeutic applications of behavioral primes (Shalev & Bargh, 2011). We evaluated whether courageous approach behavior might be facilitated through priming in a sample of spider fearful women.

Method

Undergraduate student women reporting elevated spider fear (N = 33, Age mean = 18.88) were recruited for this study. Participants completed self-report measures of spider fear and dispositional courage. They then completed either a courage or neutral word search prime, which was followed by a behavioral approach task involving a tarantula.

Results

Consistent with predictions, among those reporting lower dispositional courage, the courage prime led to reduced approach behavior relative to the neutral prime. However, no group differences were found among those high in dispositional courage.

Conclusions

These findings point to the importance of self-perceptions in moderating the effects of behavioral primes and suggest limitations to the use of such interventions with individuals with psychological dysfunction.