(De)Coupling of Our Eyes and Our Mind’s Eye: A Dynamic Process Perspective on Attentional Bias

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We aimed to illuminate the theorized, yet empirically elusive, connection between covert and overt attentional processes subserving attentional biases (AB). We found that covert and overt attentional processes were each expressed dynamically, fluctuating from moment-to-moment between phases of (over)engagement and phases of avoidance of threat stimuli. The key features of the temporal dynamics of covert and overt attentional processes were significantly correlated. Moreover, the real-time, dynamic expressions of overt and covert attentional processes were significantly coupled from trial-to-trial; and voluntary inhibition of overt attention decoupled their connection in time. In contrast to this dynamic process perspective on AB, when quantified through the decades-old paradigm conceptualizing AB as a static trait-like phenomenon, covert and overt attentional processes demonstrated (seemingly) no association and poor psychometrics. We discuss the implications of the findings for better understanding the nature of AB, its measurement, bio-psycho-behavioral correlates, and clinical modification.

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