Neither State or Trait Anxiety Alter the Response to Distracting Emotionally Neutral Sounds

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Attentional control theory suggests that heightened anxiety, whether due to trait or state factors, causes an increased vulnerability to distraction even when the distracters are emotionally neutral. Recent passive oddball studies appear to support this theory in relation to the distraction caused by emotionally neutral sounds. However such studies have manipulated emotional state via the content of task stimuli, thus potentially confounding changes in emotion with differences in task demands. To identify the effect of anxiety on the distraction caused by emotionally neutral sounds, 50 participants completed a passive oddball task requiring emotionally neutral sounds to be ignored. Crucially, state anxiety was manipulated independent of the task stimuli (via unrelated audiovisual stimuli) thus removing confounds relating to task demands. Neither state or trait anxiety was found to influence the susceptibility to distraction by emotionally neutral sounds. These findings contribute to the ongoing debate concerning the impact of emotion on attention.

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