Fear Imagery and Text Processing


  • This research was supported by NIMH research fellowship award MH 09394 to the first author and NIMH research grant MH 37757 to the third author.

Address requests for reprints to: Peter J. Lang, Box J-165 JHMHC, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32610.


This study examined the effect of three variables held to influence heart rate response during imagery-related text processing: mode of processing, content of text, and inclusion of response information in the text. Sixty-four undergraduates imagined and silently repeated fearful and neutral sentences in a paradigm designed to allow for self-initiation of sentence processing. Fear sentences either included or did not include information about bodily responses in the image. Heart rate accelerated more during fear imagery than during neutral imagery or silent repetition of either type of sentence. Inclusion of response information in fear material did not increase heart rate response to imagery, but did affect self-report in the predicted direction. Heart rate waveform prior to the sentence tasks indicated pre-processing of fearful material. The results were discussed in relation to a bio-informational theory of imagery, which asserts that emotional imagery accesses the same centrally-mediated response program as is evoked in the target reality context, and thus occasions measurable activity in the appropriate effectors.