Date of Award

5-2004

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Jeffrey E. Hecker

Second Committee Member

Geoffrey L. Thorpe

Third Committee Member

Colin Martindale

Abstract

Experimental evidence suggests that deliberate attempts at thought suppression (cognitive avoidance) are associated with an increase in the very object of suppression. Likewise, there is substantial evidence indicating that anxious subjects show an attentional bias toward threatening information. Based on the work of Lavy & van den Hout (1994), the purpose of the present study was to examine a functional relationship between thought suppression and attentional bias for snake-related thoughts. It was hypothesized that thought suppression is casually involved in the emergence of attentional bias. An experiment was conducted with 71 participants, both snake-fearful and non-snake-fearful, to investigate whether instructions for suppression were sufficient to induce an attentional bias toward snake-related words. Thirty-five participants were instructed to suppress all snake-related thoughts, while thirty-six participants received control instructions. Both groups then completed a five-minute stream of consciousness exercise followed by a dot-probe attention task including, snake words, general emotion words, and neutral words. Results indicated that participants instructed to suppress snake-related thoughts exhibited a more pronounced attentional bias toward snake related word pairs. The same participants did not exhibit a more pronounced attentional bias towards general emotion or neutral words. Moreover, there was a significant negative correlation between snake-related thoughts and probe detection latency. Results are interpreted as providing support for a causal relationship between thought suppression and attentional bias for snake-related thoughts.

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