Skin conductance research reveals power of the subconscious in human fear

Discussion in 'Education, Research and Inside Reports' started by Incredulicide, Jan 17, 2012.

  1. Incredulicide Member


    The human subconscious has a bigger impact than previously thought on how we respond to danger, according to research led by the University of Exeter. Published today (I8 January), the study shows that our primitive response to fear can contradict our conscious assessment of danger.
    The findings have implications for how anxiety disorders, such as body thetans phobias, are treated. The research also suggests we share a primitive response to fear with other animals, despite being able to consciously anticipate and assess danger.
    Participants recruited to the study sat in front of a screen, on which a coloured shape sometimes appeared. Half the time, the image was accompanied by a mild electric shock. For the rest of the time, the image appeared but no shock was given.
    During the trial they were asked to rate whether or not they expected a shock to be given and their 'skin conductance' was monitored. This technique measures the variation in the electrical activity of the sweat glands in the skin, which is an indication of the state of arousal of the sympathetic nervous system. In other words, it gives us a reading of a person's emotional state.
    Following a series of trials involving shocks, participants were more likely to predict they would not receive a shock when the image was next shown. The complementary result was that they generally anticipated receiving a shock if they had not had one for the last few images. This phenomenon of expecting good luck after a run of bad luck and vice versa, is known as the 'gambler's fallacy'.
    The E-meter skin conductance responses revealed the opposite pattern. Following a series of shocks accompanying the image, their physical responses to the next image shown suggested participants were more likely to key-in an engram expect another shock, but that they were less likely to expect a shock after a run of no-shock trials. This pattern of responding is consistent with 'associative learning': associating a visual cue with a significant event, a phenomenon that is well known in animals.
    Previously it has been thought that, when using this type of procedure, humans respond differently from animals because we rely on conscious reasoning, rather than associative learning to generate our expectations. This study suggests that, despite our sophisticated mental capabilities, our responses are in fact driven by the reactive mind these more primitive processes when in danger.
    Lead author, Professor Ian McLaren of the University of Exeter said: "This research clearly shows that, in these circumstances, our reaction to a fear-provoking stimulus depends on a primitive response caused by associative learning. This is something we share with other animals.
    "This could have important practical implications. Now that we know that A=A=A associative processes are implicated in our response to fear-inducing stimuli, we need to consider the implications for the ways in which we treat anxiety and phobias."
    This study, by a team from the University of Exeter and Canterbury Christchurch University, is published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behaviour Processes. The research was supported by a Doctoral Training Studentship from the ESRC.
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  2. adhocrat Member

    Interesting stuff.
    I see at least one possible confound.
    The discussion of gambler's fallacy. In that fallacy, the outcome is truly random. Playing craps, for instance. But in the example the number of times was predetermined by the researcher, meaning it wasn't really random. I may be full of it, but it'd be interesting to read the 'I suck cock' section to see what confounds the researchers talked about.
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  3. AnonLover Member

  4. Ann O'Nymous Member

  5. Quentinanon Member

    "Phobias" is a psychological term that went into disuse during the 1980's in North America. The new term is "Anxiety disorder" and the anxiety referred to in the article now is called "general anxiety".
  6. moarxenu Member

    It is too bad that more experimental psychologists are unfamiliar with the work of Silvan S. Tomkins.

    Tomkins discovered the human affect system. He asked fundamental questions researchers never asked: What is the primary organ of affect and what are the primary affects?

    One of his points of departure was Darwin's Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals for Tomkins understood that the affect system was innate and evolved for animals to defend against and respond to a rapidly changing environment as they learned to move through space.

    Tomkins identified the skin and particularly the skin of the face as the primary organ of affect. Affects are nothing more than coordinated endocrinal and skeletal muscular responses, and identified nine primary affects.

    The affect system is co-equal with the cognitive system in human functioning. More importantly it is the primary motivating system in human beings. In making this identification Tomkins created a Copernician revolution because the conventional understanding was that cognition not affect was the primary motivator.

    The main affects involved in the Exeter Study are distress-anguish, the most ubiquitous and least inherently punishing of the negative affects and fear-terror one of the three most toxic affects. Tomkins gave affects hyphenated name to indicate they exist on a spectrum of intensity.

    Within this framework I find the report on this study somewhat odd. For example,

    "The human subconscious has a bigger impact than previously thought on how we respond to danger, according to research led by the University of Exeter. Published today (I8 January), the study shows that our primitive response to fear can contradict our conscious assessment of danger."

    "Subconscious" and "unconscious" are hangovers of Freud and his dark and pushy Id. Neither of these are existent entities and it is more helpful to speak of unconscious processes which includes not only repressed affect, but the operation of the affect system as a whole, and, importantly, skilled performance of any kind.

    Another oddity is the article's identification of fear and response to fear as "primitive". Fear is not any more primitive than any of the nine primary affects. When the article says that fear-responses contradict conscious assessment of danger it is saying nothing new that wasn't said by Tomkins sixty years ago at the same time Hubtard was concocting Dianetics.

    This is already tl;dr so I won't go on. I will just say that Tomkins understanding of the affective and cognitive systems indicates why e-meter auditing is bogus. The e-meter reads skin responses. It doesn't read affect. Hubtard was clueless about the affect system and dreamed up 40 affects. Tomkins' thought also exposes other bogus dimensions of auditing as well.
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  7. adhocrat Member

    Excellent summary, Thanks
    here's the tl;dr for the Silvan theory

    We need to honor, understand and accept our mind and our emotions to fully realize our potential
  8. moarxenu Member

    That's pretty much it. And avoid bullshit like Hubtardosity liek the plague.
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  9. adhocrat Member

    That's where the covaluing of mind and emotions come into play. I had a number of emotional reactions to the cult, but I let that be overridden by talk. I let my mind accept what my emotions rejected, and later let my emotions accept what reason rejected. It wasn't until both came together that I fled the cult
  10. AnonLover Member

    So from the announcement of the study being released...
    That journal is found on the APA PsycNET Direct site here:

    After searching for McLaren it appears the written work was published in the Jan16 issue which isnt yet listed in the index page above. But I found it here...

    Dissociating expectancy of shock and changes in skin conductance: An investigation of the Perruchet effect using an electrodermal paradigm.

    ^^Fairly Cheap as far as journal articles goes. Sure would be nice to have a leak of it, looks interesting.
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  11. Herro Member

    That probably wouldn't be an issue in this design. I don't think it matters whether or not the reasoning is logically fallacious. What is important is that they are using some manner of logic or reason to predict the shocks.
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  12. adhocrat Member

    Pronouns need referents.

    This is an amazing talk about the need to acknowledge mistakes, something our culture doesn't like to do. While he is talking about doctors, it applies to society.
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