Neural correlation of successful cognitive behaviour therapy for spider phobia: A magnetoencephalography study

Barry Wright*, Ben Alderson-Day, Garreth Prendergast, Juliette Kennedy, Sophie Bennett, Mary Docherty, Clare Whitton, Laura Manea, Andre Gouws, Heather Tomlinson, Gary Green

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be an effective treatment for spider phobia, but the underlying neural correlates of therapeutic change are yet to be specified. The present study used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to study responses within the first half second, to phobogenic stimuli in a group of individuals with spider phobia prior to treatment (n=12) and then in nine of them following successful CBT (where they could touch and manage live large common house spiders) at least 9 months later. We also compared responses to a group of age-matched healthy control participants (n=11). Participants viewed static photographs of real spiders, other fear-inducing images (e.g. snakes, sharks) and neutral stimuli (e.g. kittens). Beamforming methods were used to localise sources of significant power changes in response to stimuli. Prior to treatment, participants with spider phobia showed a significant maximum response in the right frontal pole when viewing images of real spiders specifically. No significant frontal response was observed for either control participants or participants with spider phobia post-treatment. In addition, participants' subjective ratings of spider stimuli significantly predicted peak responses in right frontal regions. The implications for understanding brain-based effects of cognitive therapies are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)444-451
Number of pages8
JournalPsychiatry Research - Neuroimaging
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2013


  • Brain activation
  • Fear
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Neuroimaging
  • Psychological therapy
  • Simple phobia


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