Date Approved

12-12-2012

Date Posted

6-20-2013

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Committee Member

Ellen Koch, Ph.D., Chair

Committee Member

Renee Lajiness-O'Neill, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dean Lauterbach, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Heide Klumpp, Ph.D.

Abstract

The prevalence of anxiety disorders in the general population makes clarification of variables that contribute to the onset or maintenance of these disorders essential. Two such contributory variables are anxiety-induced selective processing bias and theorized subsequent explicit memory avoidance. The purpose of the present study was to examine the impact of one-session in vivo exposure treatment on selective processing bias and explicit memory avoidance immediately following successful treatment of stimulus-specific anxiety as well as at one-week and one-month follow-up. Participants (N = 60) were assigned to one of three groups: (1) the treatment group, composed of individuals who were fearful of either a snake or a spider and who received one-session in vivo exposure treatment for that fear; (2) the no-treatment group, composed of snake- or spider-fearful individuals who did not receive treatment for this specific fear; or (3) the control group, composed of individuals who were not fearful of either a snake or spider. Comparisons of these three participant groups occurred prior to treatment (i.e. pre-test assessment), following treatment (i.e. post-test assessment), and at one-week and one-month follow-up on tests of selective processing bias and on tests of explicit memory for a previously learned word list. It was hypothesized that treatment would cause immediate elimination of selective processing bias and explicit memory avoidance, but that the effects of treatment would reduce at one-week and one-month follow-up as no treatment maintenance procedures were used in this study. Mostly null results were obtained on all dependent variable measures used in this study at all assessment periods. This sample displayed no evidence of selective processing bias and/or explicit memory avoidance at any of the four assessment points, halting the investigation of the impact of treatment on these processes. Additionally, results pertaining to the impact of state and trait anxiety were largely null. Thus, all questions the study was to address could not be adequately answered given the lack of evidence for the presence of the constructs in the sample. Focus of the discussion is on the reasons for the null results, including methodological issues as well as theoretical issues with the constructs of interest.

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