Anxiety Sensitivity: The Role of Conscious Awareness and Selective Attentional Bias to Physical Threat

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Selective attentional biases were examined amongst individuals varying in levels of physical anxiety sensitivity. The dot-probe paradigm was used to examine attention towards anxiety symptomatology, social threat and positive words. Stimuli were presented above (unmasked) and below (masked) the level of conscious awareness. High physical anxiety sensitivity was associated with attentional vigilance for anxiety symptomatology words in both unmasked and masked conditions. For positive words, however, those high in anxiety sensitivity were found to avoid such stimuli when they were masked, whereas they exhibited a relative vigilance when unmasked. If the differences between awareness conditions are reliable, then the impact of the automatic vigilance for threat might be modified by conscious attempts to direct attention towards other types of stimuli.

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