Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 43, Issue 5, pp 948–958 | Cite as

Reactivation and Evaluation of Mastery Experiences Promotes Exposure Benefit in Height Phobia

  • Friederike Raeder
  • Marcella L. Woud
  • Silvia Schneider
  • Christina Totzeck
  • Dirk Adolph
  • Jürgen Margraf
  • Armin ZlomuzicaEmail author
Original Article


The retrieval of personal mastery experiences has been linked to adaptive functions, such as increased perceived self-efficacy and coping capability. Successful exposure leads to an increased mastery experience with respect to anxiety provoking situations, possibly due to a violation of expected negative outcomes. We investigated whether the reactivation and evaluation of mastery experiences after a brief virtual reality exposure (VRE) training can enhance self-efficacy and promote exposure therapy benefit in patients with acrophobia. Acrophobic participants (N = 56) were randomly assigned to a memory reactivation and evaluation (= VRE–MRE) intervention, a control (= memory reactivation; VRE–MR), or no intervention (= VRE) after VRE. The VRE–MRE condition involved the evaluation of mastery experiences associated with exposure and related events from the past. The effects of the VRE–MRE intervention were assessed on the level of behavioral avoidance and subjective fear at post-treatment and one-month follow-up. Relative to both the VRE–MR and VRE conditions, the VRE–MRE group showed an increase in self-efficacy and exhibited more pronounced reductions in behavioral avoidance, subjective fear at the initial approach distance, as well as scores on the acrophobia questionnaire (AQ) from pre- to post-treatment. The superior effects of the VRE–MRE intervention remained evident on the level of behavioral avoidance and associated subjective fear at the initial approach distance, but not on the AQ, from pre-treatment to follow-up. These findings indicate that the reactivation and evaluation of mastery experiences could be used as a strategy to increase exposure-based therapy in anxiety disorders.


Acrophobia Extinction Exposure Self-efficacy Virtual reality 



This study was funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) - Projektnummer 316803389 - SFB1280 (Project A13 awarded to A.Z. and J.M). The funders had no role in study design, data collection, manuscript preparation and decision to publish.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Friederike Raeder, Marcella L. Woud, Silvia Schneider, Christina Totzeck, Dirk Adolph, Jürgen Margraf, and Armin Zlomuzica declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Research Involving Human Participants

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Animal Rights

No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this article.

Supplementary material

10608_2019_10018_MOESM1_ESM.docx (13 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 12 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Friederike Raeder
    • 1
  • Marcella L. Woud
    • 1
  • Silvia Schneider
    • 1
  • Christina Totzeck
    • 1
  • Dirk Adolph
    • 1
  • Jürgen Margraf
    • 1
  • Armin Zlomuzica
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Mental Health Research and Treatment CenterRuhr-Universität BochumBochumGermany

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