Electroencephalographic Activity in Patients with Claustrophobia: A Pilot Study

Dunya Moradi, Reza Eyvazpour, Fariborz Rahimi, Ali Jahan, Seyed Hossein Rasta, Mahdad Esmaeili

DOI: 10.4103/jmss.JMSS_62_2010.4103/jmss.JMSS_62_20


Background: Exposure to small confined spaces evokes physiological responses such as increased heart rate in claustrophobic patients. However, little is known  about electrocortical activity while these people are functionally exposed to such phobic situations. The aim of this study was to examine possible changes in electrocortical activity in this population. Method: Two highly affected patients with claustrophobia and two healthy controls participated in this in vivo study during which electroencephalographic (EEG) activity was continuously recorded. Relative power spectral density (rPSD) was compared between two situations of being relaxed in a well-lit open area, and sitting in a relaxed chair in a small (90 cm × 180 cm × 155 cm) chamber with a dim light. This comparison of rPSDs in five frequency bands of EEG was intended to investigate possible patterns of change in electrical activity during fear-related situation. This possible change was also compared between claustrophobic patients and healthy controls in all cortical areas. Results: Statistical models showed that there is a significant interaction between groups of participants and experimental situations in all frequency bands (P < 0.01). In other words, claustrophobic patients showed significantly different changes in electrical activity while going from rest to the test situation. Clear differences were observed in alpha and theta bands. In the theta band, while healthy controls showed an increase in rPSD, claustrophobic patients showed an opposite decrease in the power of electrical activity when entering the confined chamber. In alpha band, both groups showed an increase in rPSD, though this increase was significantly higher for claustrophobic patients. Conclusion: The effect of in vivo exposure to confined environments on EEG activity is different in claustrophobic patients than in healthy controls. Most of this contrast is observed in central and parietal areas of the cortex, and in the alpha and theta bands.


Claustrophobia, electroencephalography, in vivo study, relative power spectral density

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