Frightening web sights : imagery and its characteristics in spider phobia
Objectives. The objective of this study was to investigate how the characteristics of selfgenerated
and spontaneous images might differ between states of high and low anxiety, as
observed in spider phobia. It was not known whether self-generated images could be used, in
the samew ay as spontaneousim ages,t o accessc ore beliefs. The frequency and characteristics
of spontaneousi mages were assessedto determine whether they are negative, recurrent, and
link to early memories, as have been reported in social phobia.
Design. Participants were recruited into either a spider-anxious group or a control group
based upon their response (independent variable) to the Fear of Spiders Questionnaire (Muris
& Mercklebach, 1996). A semi-structured interview, incorporating a within and betweengroup
design, required participants to rate the characteristics (the dependent variables) of selfgenerated
and spontaneous images.
Method. A semi-structured interview was administered. Participants rated the characteristics
of two images (spider and butterfly) using visual analogue scales. The downward arrow
technique was used to access core beliefs associated with the self-generated and spontaneous
Results. The spider-anxious group's spider image was more vivid, evoked more anxiety, and
was perceived as having more intent than both control images. The spider-anxious group
reported more negative core beliefs associated with the self-generated image and more
spontaneous images, that were recurrent, negative and that linked to early traumatic
Conclusions. The phenomenological characteristics of self-generated images can be reliably
assessed and, in the absence of spontaneous images, can be utilised to access core beliefs in
anxiety disorders. This study provides some evidence of cognitive biases and thinking errors
and calls for a new cognitive model of specific phobia.