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Anxiety and threat magnification in subjective and physiological responses of fear of heights induced by virtual reality

Krupic, D., Zuro, B. & Corr, P. J. ORCID: 0000-0002-7618-0058 (2021). Anxiety and threat magnification in subjective and physiological responses of fear of heights induced by virtual reality. Personality and Individual Differences, 169(109720), article number 109720. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2019.109720


Fear of heights (acrophobia) is a common condition, yet it is not well understood. Immersive virtual reality (VR) offers experimental rigour to study it in a safe laboratory setting. This is an example of how VR is a relatively new methodology to explore individual differences in clinically relevant phenotypes, and it shows how the field can be advanced by the adoption of new technology. In this study, we examined threat magnification in subjective level of distress and electrodermal activity (EDA) during fear of heights induced by VR. Also, we compared VR and mindfulness in reducing this subjective distress. With a sample of 128 (63 males) young people (mean age = 22.85, SD = 3.97), results showed that the subjective level of distress increases, and EDA decreases, during induced fear of heights. Mediation analysis confirmed that threat magnification mediated the relationship between anxiety and (a) physiological arousal and (b) subjective distress during induction of fear of heights. Finally, moderated regression analysis showed that the VR and mindfulness techniques were successful in reducing the subjective level of distress in highly aroused individuals after fear induction. This study provides evidence of the usefulness of avoidance based models of personality in human defensive reactions.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2020. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Publisher Keywords: Freezing, threat magnification, reinforcement sensitivity theory, virtual reality
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
SWORD Depositor:
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