The presence and characteristics of mental (intrusive) images in people with elevated fear of heights
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Background and aim: Mental intrusive images play a role in the onset and maintenance of mental disorders. The presence of intrusive mental images in acrophobia could be a specific angle on this matter but is not investigated yet. Therefore, this study aimed to explore the presence and characteristics of mental (intrusive) images in people with elevated fear of heights (EFOH) compared to people with low fear of heights (LFOH). Method: A between-subject design and a 2x2 mixed design were used to explore the differences in mental imagery characteristics between and within the EFOH (n=21) and LFOH (n=24) group. Participants were exposed to heights through virtual reality. The EFOH and LFOH groups were composed based on a cut-off score on the Acrophobia Questionnaire anxiety scale, in reference to a clinical sample. Results: The EFOH group reported more intrusive images in everyday life but not during height exposure compared to the LFOH group. No differences in perspective, vividness and emotionality between the groups were found during height exposure. Unpredictably, mental images of LFOH groups were more negative than EFOH. Finally, an interaction effect of group and exposure on emotionality was found. A trend was visible for vividness. Conclusion and discussion: This study found evidence for intrusive images in everyday life in EFOH. However, results during height exposure were mixed, possibly due to the group composition and VR-environments. Future research is necessary to undermine the results of this study.