THREAT-RELATED ATTENTIONAL BIASES: AN ANALYSIS OF THREE ATTENTION SYSTEMS

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Abstract

It is unclear how threat-related attentional biases affect multiple attention systems. This study used a new modification of a reaction time paradigm to examine whether inter-trial task-irrelevant fearful faces influenced the efficiency of alerting, orienting, and executive attention, and whether effects varied with level of state anxiety. Participants, 63 non-disordered adults (17 males and 46 females), reported on their subjective state anxiety and completed a modified version of the Attention Network Test in which fearful or neutral faces or control stimuli were presented briefly (50 ms) between trials of the task, but provided no task-relevant information. Across all participants, state anxiety was positively correlated with alerting, whereas fearful versus neutral faces were linked to decreased alerting efficiency. Contrasting high and low anxiety groups showed that fearful versus neutral faces reduced executive attention in the low state anxiety group only, suggesting decreased distraction by irrelevant stimuli in the high state anxiety group. Results document threat-related attentional biases that varied with attention system but failed to find enhanced bias effects among those with higher state anxiety in a typical range. This modification of the Attention Network Test, which added presentation of emotional distracters, provides a potentially useful new method for assessing the impact of taskirrelevant emotional stimuli on three aspects of attention performance.

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