Kolassa, Iris-Tatjana


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Interpretive bias in social phobia : An ERP study with morphed emotional schematic faces

2009, Kolassa, Iris-Tatjana, Kolassa, Stephan, Bergmann, Sandra, Lauche, Romy, Dilger, Stefan, Miltner, Wolfgang H. R., Musial, Frauke

Individuals with social phobia fear negative evaluation, which is most directly
signalled by an angry expression of the interlocutor s face. This study investigated the processing of 3 series of schematic emotional faces, which were morphed in 7 steps from a neutral face to an angry, happy, or sad face by systematically varying features of the mouth, eyes, and eyebrows. Individuals with social phobia or spider phobia rated angry faces as more arousing than controls. Social phobics did not identify angry faces faster and showed no greater latent trait to identify a face as angry than controls. ERP data showed a modulation of the face-specific N170 by facial emotion, although this did not discriminate social phobics from controls. Instead, phobic subjects exhibited generally increased visual P1 amplitudes, suggesting a state of hypervigilance for incoming stimuli. Results are discussed in the context of psychophysiological abnormalities in the anxiety disorder spectrum.


Spider phobics more easily see a spider in morphed schematic pictures

2007, Kolassa, Iris-Tatjana, Buchmann, Arlette, Lauche, Romy, Kolassa, Stephan, Partchev, Ivailo, Miltner, Wolfgang H. R., Musial, Frauke

Background: Individuals with social phobia are more likely to misinterpret ambiguous social situations as more threatening, i.e. they show an interpretive bias. This study investigated whether such a bias also exists in specific phobia.
Methods: Individuals with spider phobia or social phobia, spider aficionados and non-phobic controls saw morphed stimuli that gradually transformed from a schematic picture of a flower into a schematic picture of a spider by shifting the outlines of the petals until they turned into spider legs. Participants' task was to decide whether each stimulus was more similar to a spider, a flower or to neither object while EEG was recorded.
Results: An interpretive bias was found in spider phobia on a behavioral level: with the first opening of the petals of the flower anchor, spider phobics rated the stimuli as more unpleasant and arousing than the control groups and showed an elevated latent trait to classify a stimulus as a spider and a response-time advantage for spider-like stimuli. No cortical correlates on the level of ERPs of this interpretive bias could be identified. However, consistent with previous studies, social and spider phobic persons exhibited generally enhanced visual P1 amplitudes indicative of hypervigilance in phobia.
Conclusion: Results suggest an interpretive bias and generalization of phobia-specific responses in specific phobia. Similar effects have been observed in other anxiety disorders, such as social phobia and posttraumatic stress disorder.


No PTSD-related differences in diurnal cortisol profiles of genocide survivors

2009, Eckart, Cindy, Engler, Harald, Riether, Carsten, Kolassa, Stephan, Elbert, Thomas, Kolassa, Iris-Tatjana

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been associated with reduced cortisol levels. Opposing results have been interpreted as resulting from methodological differences between studies.We investigated the diurnal profile of salivary cortisol in a population of highly traumatized adult males from Rwanda with and without PTSD, who spent the whole day of examination together under amaximally standardized schedule. Besides the detection of PTSDrelated alterations in cortisol release we aimed at determining physiologically relevant effects of cumulative trauma exposure on HPA functioning in interaction with or independent of diagnosis. There were no differences in the diurnal pattern of cortisol release between subjects with and without PTSD. We observed an increasing prevalence of PTSD with increasing number of different traumatic event types experienced, replicating earlier results on a building-block effect of multiple traumatization. However, size of cumulative exposure was not related to any of the cortisol measures. The results suggest that besides methodological constraints also confounding factors not previously controlled for, e.g., sex differences or current life stress, might contribute to the diverging results of lowered, unchanged or enhanced cortisol secretion in PTSD. Future research should therefore closely monitor these possible confounds to optimize models for cortisol in research on stress-dependent illnesses.


Event-related potentials when identifying or color-naming threatening schematic stimuli in spider phobic and non-phobic individuals

2006, Kolassa, Iris-Tatjana, Musial, Frauke, Kolassa, Stephan, Miltner, Wolfgang H. R.

Previous studies revealed increased parietal late positive potentials (LPPs) in response to spider pictures in spider phobic individuals. This study searched for basic features of fear-relevant stimuli by investigating whether schematic spider images are sufficient to evoke differential behavioral as well as differential early and late ERP responses in spider phobic, social phobic (as a clinical control group), and non-phobic control participants.

Behavioral and electrophysiological correlates of the processing of schematic spider and flower images were investigated while participants performed a color (emotional Stroop) and an object identification task. Stimuli were schematic pictures of spiders and flowers matched with respect to constituting visual elements.

Consistent with previous studies using photographic spider pictures, spider phobic persons showed enhanced LPPs when identifying schematic spiders compared to schematic flowers. In addition, spider phobic individuals showed generally faster responses than the control groups. This effect was interpreted as evidence for an increased general behavioral hypervigilance in this anxiety disorder group. Furthermore, both phobic groups showed enhanced P100 amplitudes compared to controls, which was interpreted as evidence for an increased (cortical) hypervigilance for incoming stimuli in phobic patients in general. Finally, all groups showed faster identification of and larger N170 amplitudes in response to schematic spider than flower pictures. This may reflect either a general advantage for fear-relevant compared to neutral stimuli, or might be due to a higher level of expertise in processing schematic spiders as compared to the more artificially looking flower stimuli.

Results suggest that schematic spiders are sufficient to prompt differential responses in spider-fearful and spider-non-fearful persons in late ERP components. Early ERP components, on the other hand, seem to be modified by anxiety status per se, which is consistent with recent theories on general hypervigilance in the anxiety disorder spectrum.


Event-related potentials to schematic faces in social phobia

2007, Kolassa, Iris-Tatjana, Kolassa, Stephan, Musial, Frauke, Miltner, Wolfgang H.

Social phobia has been associated with an attentional bias for angry faces. This study aimed at further characterising this attentional bias by investigating reaction times, heart rates, and ERPs while social phobics, spider phobics, and controls identified either the colour or the emotional quality of angry, happy, or neutral schematic faces. The emotional expression of angry faces did not interfere with the processing of their colour in social phobics, and heart rate, N170 amplitude and parietal late positive potentials (LPPs) of these subjects were also no different from those of non-phobic subjects. However, social phobics showed generally larger P1 amplitudes than non-phobic controls with spider phobic subjects in between. No general threat advantage for angry faces was found. All groups identified neutral schematic faces faster and showed larger late positive amplitudes to neutral than to emotional faces. Furthermore, in all groups the N170 was modulated by the emotional quality of faces. This effect was most pronounced in the emotion identification task.