Snake fearfulness is associated with sustained competitive biases to visual snake features: hypervigilance without avoidance

Menton McGinnis Deweese, Margaret M Bradley, Peter J Lang, Søren K Andersen, Matthias M Müller, Andreas Keil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


The extent and time course of competition between a specific fear cue and task-related stimuli in early human visual cortex was investigated using electrophysiology. Steady-state visual evoked potentials (ssVEPs) were evoked using random-dot kinematograms that consisted of rapidly flickering (8.57Hz) dots moving randomly, superimposed upon emotional or neutral distractor pictures. Participants were asked to detect intervals of coherently moving dots, ignoring the distractor pictures that varied in hedonic content. Women reporting high or low levels of snake fear were recruited from a large sample of healthy college students, and snake pictures served as fear-relevant distractors. The time-varying amplitude of the ssVEP evoked by the motion detection task showed significant reduction when viewing emotionally arousing, compared to neutral, distractors, replicating previous studies. For high-fear participants, snake distractors elicited a sustained attenuation of task evoked ssVEP amplitude, greater than the attenuation prompted by other unpleasant arousing content. These findings support a hypothesis that fear cues prompt sustained hypervigilance rather than perceptual avoidance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)329-335
Number of pages7
JournalPsychiatry Research
Issue number2
Early online date1 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2014

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

The authors would like to thank Cintya Larios and Tyler Jarrett for their help in data acquisition. This research was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grants R01 MH084932-02 and R01 MH097320, and by a grant from the Spanish Government (I+D+i PSI2009-07066), awarded to Andreas Keil.


  • EEG
  • ssVEP
  • emotion
  • attention
  • fear


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