Specific fear modulates attentional selectivity during visual search: Electrophysiological insights from the N2pc


  • The authors thank four anonymous reviewers for their helpful advice. We are grateful to Janine Wirkner for her assistance in data collection.

Address correspondence to: Mathias Weymar, Center for the Study of Emotion and Attention, University of Florida, P.O. Box 112766, Gainesville, FL 32611. E-mail: mweymar@ufl.edu or Alfons O. Hamm, Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology, University of Greifswald, Franz-Mehring-Strasse 47, 17487 Greifswald, Germany. E-mail: hamm@uni-greifswald.de


In the present study, we used high-density EEG during a visual search task to investigate the dynamics of spatial attention to fear-relevant targets and background stimuli in small animal phobia during a visual search task. Twenty-five spider fearful (22 females) and 25 healthy nonfearful participants (19 females) were measured, while searching for discrepant objects in visual arrays. Compared to nonfearful participants, spider fearful individuals showed a more enhanced posterior N2pc to spider (vs. butterfly) targets in an array of flowers. Furthermore, spider fearful participants showed enhanced hypervigilance for all presented stimuli compared to controls as reflected by enhanced N1 amplitudes (160–200 ms). Our findings provide neural evidence for early, enhanced selective spatial attention for fear-relevant stimuli.