Previous research has demonstrated the facilitative effects of relaxation and inhibitory effects of worry on the emotional processing of imaginal fear exposures. The present study was designed to determine whether these same effects occur in the emotional processing of in vivo exposures to feared stimuli. Forty-two speech-anxious college students were randomly assigned to one of three experimental induction conditions. Participants engaged in either progressive muscle relaxation, a neutral control procedure, or worry immediately before each of five repeated speech presentations while heart period and self-reported fear were monitored. Relative to the relaxation condition, the worry group demonstrated greater subjective anxiety across exposures, despite the fact that all three groups displayed strong and equivalent cardiovascular response to the first speech presentation and showed equivalent heart rate decreases across the repeated presentations. The role of parasympathetic activity in fear reduction was also documented, with decreased parasympathetic activity occurring during initial fear exposure and increased activity across repeated presentations. Implications for the role of relaxation and worry during real-life exposure to feared social situations are discussed.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Clinical Psychology