Fear-Relevant Selective Associations and Covariation Bias

Andrew J. Tomarken*, Susan Mineka, Michael Cook

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

166 Scopus citations


Three experiments used an illusory correlation paradigm to assess the effects of fear on the perception of the covariation between fear-relevant stimuli and shock. In Experiment 1, high- and low-fear women were exposed to 72 trials during each of which a fear-relevant (snake or spider) or fear-irrelevant (mushroom and flower) slide was followed by a shock, a tone, or nothing. Although the relation between slide types and outcomes was random, high-fear subjects markedly overestimated the contingency between feared slides and shock. Experiment 2 showed that this bias was due to the aversive, rather than more generally salient, features of shock. Low-fear subjects demonstrated biases equivalent to those of high-fear subjects only when the base rate of shock was increased from 33% to 50% in Experiment 3. It is concluded that fear may be linked to biases that serve to confirm fear. The relevance of the present findings to preparedness theory is also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-394
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Abnormal Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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