Published:  2020-06-01

Synchronous change in subjective and physiological reactivity during flight as an indicator of treatment outcome for aviophobia: A longitudinal study with 3-year follow-up

Authors:  Bert Busscher, Philip Spinhoven, Eco J. C. de Geus

Tags:  Anxiety, Emotion regulation, Exposure in vivo, Fear of flying, Physiological reactivity, Synchrony

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Background and objectives
Emotion can be seen as the organizing process that coordinates response systems to deal effectively with challenges and opportunities. Synchronous change in subjective and physiological reactivity is regarded as an indication of this organizing process. Synchrony is expected to increase with the intensity of emotional stimuli. Conversely, adaptive emotional functioning could be indicated by progressive synchrony upon increasing demands, and the magnitude of synchrony could be an indication of progress during therapy.
We examined whether synchronous change in subjective and physiological reactivity over repeated exposures increased from watching a flight video through simulated flight to actual flight, and whether the magnitude of synchronous change predicted favourable short- and long-term treatment outcome within a group of 77 aviophobic participants during CBT.
Results did not show a relationship between the intensity of the phobic stimuli and the magnitude of synchronous change in subjective and physiological reactivity. Moreover, synchronous change across both response systems did not predict treatment outcome.
By design this study had no control group. Additional treatment or life events between end of treatment and 3-year follow-up were not assessed.
The results provide only weak support for the functionalistic view that successful treatment of anxiety disorders is indicated by synchronous change in reactivity across emotional response systems. The relationship between these systems is likely to be affected by many intervening variables including higher order cognitive processes.