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Emotional images may be viewed as propositional structures (Lang, 1977), and involve a range of modalities, including cognitive processes. Early memories, however, are often experienced non-verbally (Pillemer, 1998). Self-generated and spontaneous images were investigated in a spider anxious group (N = 29) and a non spider anxious group (N = 30). Participants completed self-report measures and a detailed semi-structured interview. The spider anxious, compared to the control group, reported more modalities, particularly skin and internal body sensations, in a self-generated spider image than in a control image. Their spider image was also associated with more anxiety, greater intent and vividness, and skin and body sensations that lasted longer. It was also associated with more negative self and other related core beliefs. Themes in core beliefs included loss of control, negative self-evaluation and vulnerability. Most of the spider anxious group reported spontaneous, recurrent images associated with their fear of spiders. Visual, body, skin and auditory sensations were noted. These images were linked to negative self and other related beliefs. Over half identified an associated early memory containing content, emotional meaning and modalities similar to that identified in the initial image. Implications for the treatment and cognitive theory of phobias are considered.

Original publication




Journal article


Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy

Publication Date





165 - 176