Reducing the meta-emotional problem decreases physiological fear response during exposure in phobics

Alessandro Couyoumdjian, Cristina Ottaviani, Nicola Petrocchi, Roberta Trincas, Katia Tenore, Carlo Buonanno, Francesco Mancini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Anxiety disorders may not only be characterized by specific symptomatology (e.g., tachycardia) in response to the fearful stimulus (primary problem or first-level emotion) but also by the tendency to negatively evaluate oneself for having those symptoms (secondary problem or negative meta-emotion). An exploratory study was conducted driven by the hypothesis that reducing the secondary or meta-emotional problem would also diminish the fear response to the phobic stimulus. Thirty-three phobic participants were exposed to the phobic target before and after undergoing a psychotherapeutic intervention addressed to reduce the meta-emotional problem or a control condition. The electrocardiogram was continuously recorded to derive heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) and affect ratings were obtained. Addressing the meta-emotional problem had the effect of reducing the physiological but not the subjective symptoms of anxiety after phobic exposure. Preliminary findings support the role of the meta-emotional problem in the maintenance of response to the fearful stimulus (primary problem).

Original languageEnglish
Article number1105
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberJUL
Publication statusPublished - Jul 25 2016


  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Double standard
  • Heart rate
  • Heart rate variability
  • Meta-emotional problem
  • Phobic stimuli
  • Self-criticism
  • Specific phobia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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