Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

William M. Kallman


This research investigated the effects of cognitive set on the physiological, subjective, and motoric responses of fearful and non-fearful subjects exposed to specific fear stimuli. High, moderate, and low mutilation fear subjects were given instructions designed to persuade them that they were or were not afraid of mutilation stimuli. The extent to which instructions differentially affected subjects in the three fear groups and produced differential effects on responses in the three modalities was examined. The degree to which the physiological, self-report, and behavioral channels responded concordantly was also investigated.

A series of hypotheses were derived which generally indicated that high-fear instructions would produce significantly greater physiological, self-report, and behavioral indices of anxiety than low-fear instructions. It was also predicted that these effects would be great- est for subjects in the moderate-fear group, and that the subjective and motoric response systems would exhibit greater differential change due to instructions than the physiological channel. In addition, high mutilation fear subjects were predicted to show greater concordance between response systems than the moderate- or low-fear groups.

Subjects were 48 female undergraduate students enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University who were selected from a pool of 168 females who answered the Mutilation Questionnaire (Klorman, Weerts, Hastings, Melamed, & Lang, 1974). Sixteen subjects were assigned to each of the three fear groups on the basis of their total MQ scores, with 8 subjects in each of the six combined fear-instructional conditions. Following the administration of either high- or low-fear instructions, each subject was exposed to 5 neutral and 5 fearful slides. Each slide was presented for a 10-second duration with a 120—second interval between slides.

Dependent measures consisted of skin conductance responses (SCR), heart rate responses (HRR), and subjective distress ratings (SUDS) for each slide, total scores on a posttest administration of the MQ, and a behavioral avoidance Test (BAT) in seconds of latency to respond.

Results indicated that instruction had the predicted effects on the SCR‘s produced by all three fear groups to neutral stimuli, and on the level of heart rate exhibited by high mutilation fear subjects to both fearful and neutral slides. With the exception of the SUDS ratings of the moderate-fear group, the predicted instructional effects were obtained on both self-report measures for all three groups. The BAT measure failed to produce any significant instructional effects. The results did not support the hypotheses predicting greater instructional effects for moderately fearful subjects and no significant differences were obtained in the degree of concordance between dependent measures for the three fear groups.

Results are discussed with regard to the effects of cognitive set on the various components of the anxiety response and the relationship between arousal level and effectiveness of the instructional manipulation. Issues of clinical relevance, such as the treatment of phobias, were also discussed with regard to the results of the present study. Methodological problems in the present study and suggestions for future research are also discussed.


Scanned, with permission from the author, from the original print version, which resides in University Archives.


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