29 Labeling Affect/Emotions: Fear of Spiders

Based on Reasearch by Katharina Kircanski, Ph.D.. Psychology Science Minute written by Kyle Piecora, M.S.

Psychology Science Minute brought to you by the School of Psychology at Florida Institute of Technology, I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett.

Are you afraid of spiders? About 2% of the adult U.S. population suffers from severe specific, phobias, such as, Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders.1 2 Prior research demonstrates that exposure therapy, gradually confronting and getting closer and closer to the feared object, reduces our anxiety and fear.  But what role do our thoughts play? Some psychologists believe using logical thinking to dispute one’s beliefs about the feared object would help. However, Katharina Kircanski and colleagues looked at the role that describing or labeling the emotions has on helping people cope with their fears.3

She assigned 88 students scoring high on the Spider Phobia Questionnaire to four different treatments groups. Each group used a different method of coping with their stress during their exposure to huge South America spiders. Students who spoke about their feelings and fears maintained lower levels of anxiety as measured by the electrical activity present in their skin compared to the others using different approaches such as using distracting words, reappraising one’s fearful thoughts about the spiders, or just exposure!  They were also able to take closer to the spiders.

Speaking about feelings may help us feel more in control in approaching the feared stimulus. Next time you are facing your own feared situation, put your feelings into words, label and describe them!

That’s your Florida Tech Psychology Science Minute. I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett.


1 National Institute of Mental Health (n.d.).   http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1SPEC_ADULT.shtml

2Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27.

3Kircanski, K., Lieberman, M. D., Craske, M. G.  (2012).  Feelings into words: Contributions of language to exposure therapy.  Psychological Science, DOI: 10.1177/0956797612443830.

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