Case Study: A Quantitative Report of Early Attention, Fear, Disgust, and Avoidance in Specific Phobia for Buttons

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


Koumpounophobia, Object phobia, Emotion


Specific phobia is characterized by elevated early attention to the phobic object, negative emotion, and avoidance. Typically, phobic objects are biologically relevant, such as potentially threatening snakes or spiders, or potentially contaminating needles or rodents. It is unclear whether the same early attention, emotion, and avoidance responses can be observed in phobia for uncommon, nonbiologically relevant objects, such as buttons (koumpounophobia). In an experimental case study, we measured early attention (detection rates to briefly presented images before a backward mask), emotion, and avoidance to clothing buttons in a button-phobic participant. We compared these responses to nonphobic objects (zippers), and to well-matched control participants. We observed elevated early attention, fear, and disgust to buttons, which did not generalize to nonphobic emotional stimuli. In addition, we observed elevated avoidance of buttons, which did generalize to normatively fearful and disgusting pictures. If replicated, our results indicate that nonbiologically prepared phobic objects elicit similar elevated early attention, emotion, and avoidance as biologically prepared phobic objects. The finding that avoidance was the only response that generalized to nonphobic objects may have treatment implications—namely, that therapeutic attempts to reduce avoidance might consider including a variety of objects, not just the phobic object.

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Copyright is held by Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. User is responsible for all copyright compliance. This article was originally published as:

McRae, K., Ciesielski, B. G., Pereira, S. C., & Gross, J. J. (2022). Case study: A quantitative report of early attention, fear, disgust, and avoidance in specific phobia for buttons. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 29(2), 485-493.

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Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies


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English (eng)

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Cognitive and Behavioral Practice



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