(HealthDay News) – Verbalizing fear may play a role in regulating the emotional aspects of fear, according to a study published online Aug 16 in Psychological Science.

Katharina Kircanski, PhD, from Stanford University in California, and colleagues compared affect labeling, reappraisal, distraction during exposure, and exposure-alone (without using words) in four groups, each comprising 22 spider-fearful individuals. The effect on fear responding was evaluated at three test occasions where the individuals were exposed to a live spider: pre-test, and immediate and one week post-test, with another spider in a different context.

The researchers found that the affect labeling group exhibited a reduced skin conductance response compared to the other groups. At one week post-test, the affect labeling group exhibited marginally greater approach behavior compared with the distraction group. For self-reported fear at immediate or one week post-test, the affect labeling group did not differ from the other groups.

“Future investigations should examine the effects of affect labeling, reappraisal, and distraction in a larger clinical sample over a longer time period. It is possible that word use may have differing effects across various samples and time intervals,” the authors write. “Together, these findings propose that verbalizing fear and anxiety during exposure to a feared stimulus can improve the subsequent ability to effectively manage aspects of one’s emotional experience and behavior.”

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