Reducing the meta-emotional problem decreases physiological fear response during exposure in phobics
Couyoumdjian, A., Ottaviani, C., Petrocchi, N., Trincas, R., Tenore, K., Buonanno, C. and Mancini, F. (2016). Reducing the meta-emotional problem decreases physiological fear response during exposure in phobics. Frontiers in Psychology. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01105
Anxiety disorders may not only be characterized by specific symptomatology (e.g., tachycardia) in response to the fearful stimulus (primary problem or first-level emotion) but also by the tendency to negatively evaluate oneself for having those symptoms (secondary problem or negative meta-emotion). An exploratory study was conducted driven by the hypothesis that reducing the secondary or meta-emotional problem would also diminish the fear response to the phobic stimulus. Thirty-three phobic participants were exposed to the phobic target before and after undergoing a psychotherapeutic intervention addressed to reduce the meta-emotional problem or a control condition. The electrocardiogram was continuously recorded to derive heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) and affect ratings were obtained. Addressing the meta-emotional problem had the effect of reducing the physiological but not the subjective symptoms of anxiety after phobic exposure. Preliminary findings support the role of the meta-emotional problem in the maintenance of response to the fearful stimulus (primary problem).