Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Psychologists closing in on causes of claustrophobic fear

Date:
April 13, 2011
Source:
Emory University
Summary:
We all move around in a protective bubble of "near space," more commonly known as "personal space." But not everyone's bubble is the same size. People who project their personal space too far beyond their bodies, or the norm of arm's reach, are more likely to experience claustrophobic fear, a new study finds. The study is one of the first to focus on the perceptual mechanisms of claustrophobic fear.

We all move around in a protective bubble of "near space," more commonly known as "personal space." But not everyone's bubble is the same size. People who project their personal space too far beyond their bodies, or the norm of arm's reach, are more likely to experience claustrophobic fear, a new study finds.

Related Articles


The study, to be published in the journal Cognition, is one of the first to focus on the perceptual mechanisms of claustrophobic fear.

"We've found that people who are higher in claustrophobic fear have an exaggerated sense of the near space surrounding them," says Emory psychologist Stella Lourenco, who led the research. "At this point, we don't know whether it's the distortion in spatial perception that leads to the fear, or vice versa. Both possibilities are likely."

Everyone experiences claustrophobic fear to some extent, but there is a wide range of individual differences. About 4 percent of people are estimated to suffer from full-blown claustrophobia, which can cause them to have panic attacks when traveling through a tunnel or riding in an elevator. Some people seek medical treatment for the condition.

"Increasing our understanding of the factors that contribute to claustrophobia may help clinicians develop more effective therapies for what can be a highly debilitating fear," says Matthew Longo, one of the study's co-authors and a psychologist at Birkbeck, University of London.

Claustrophobia is often associated with a traumatic experience, such as getting stuck in an elevator for a long period. "However, we know that some people who experience traumatic events in restricted spaces don't develop full-blown claustrophobia," Lourenco says. "That led us to ask whether other factors might be involved. Our results show a clear relation between claustrophobic fear and basic aspects of spatial perception."

Neural and behavioral evidence shows that we treat space that is within arm's reach differently from space that is farther away. "It makes adaptive sense to be more aware of things that are closer to the body, for both utilitarian purposes and defensive ones," Lourenco says. "It also makes adaptive sense to be afraid of things that are too far away from you on the vertical dimension, since there can be a great cost to falling."

In ongoing work, Lourenco and Longo are investigating how the range of individual differences in spatial perception relates to fear. They are asking normal research subjects, who are not seeking treatment for claustrophobia or acrophobia (the fear of heights), to estimate various distances.

While the subjects who have higher levels of claustrophobic fear underestimate horizontal distances, those who have more acrophobic fear overestimate vertical distances. "One intriguing possibility is that these two types of fear may form opposite ends of a single spatial-perceptual continuum," Lourenco says.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Emory University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Stella F. Lourenco, Matthew R. Longo, Thanujeni Pathman. Near space and its relation to claustrophobic fear. Cognition, 2011; 119 (3): 448 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2011.02.009

Cite This Page:

Emory University. "Psychologists closing in on causes of claustrophobic fear." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 April 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110412065809.htm>.
Emory University. (2011, April 13). Psychologists closing in on causes of claustrophobic fear. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110412065809.htm
Emory University. "Psychologists closing in on causes of claustrophobic fear." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110412065809.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

AP (Oct. 23, 2014) A scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades at the University of North Carolina was bigger than previously reported, a new investigation found. (Oct. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) Feast your eyes on this gorgeous family-friendly resort. Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Your Favorite Color Says About You

What Your Favorite Color Says About You

Buzz60 (Oct. 22, 2014) We all have one color we love to wear, and believe it or not, your color preference may reveal some of your character traits. In celebration of National Color Day, Krystin Goodwin (@kyrstingoodwin) highlights what your favorite colors may say about you. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins