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People who have irrational fears ("phobias") often describe the threatening objects as much larger or extreme than they are in reality. The amygdala, an area within the limbic system of the brain that responds to fearful images and is connected to the visual cortex, may be partially responsible for the link between fear and visual perception.
To investigate the association between fear and visual perception, researchers in the Department of Psychology at The Ohio State University studied 57 undergraduate students who had a fear of spiders (arachnophobia). Each student was asked to approach a tarantula spider and then rate their own fear and estimate the size of the spider.
The researchers found that higher levels of fear were correlated with larger estimations of the size of the spiders.
People who fear spiders may process the visual stimuli differently or the way that they remember or pay attention to the spider may influence how they report on the size of the spider. Understanding how perception is influenced by fear may help treat people with phobias.
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