The effects of anxiety upon attention allocation to affective stimuli
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Pictures of emotionally aversive, neutral, and pleasant scenes were presented for 500 ms, followed by a probe presented in the same location (valid trials) or an alternate location (invalid trials) as the picture. Response-times to the probes were recorded in low (N=20) and high (N=27) trait anxious participants. Results revealed an overall negative cue validity effect of shorter reaction times on invalid than valid trials, suggestive of an inhibition of return effect. Moreover, high trait anxious females showed a reduced negative cue validity effect for aversive pictures in comparison with neutral and pleasant pictures, suggestive of selective interference by the unpleasant material. By contrast, low trait anxious females showed an enhanced negative cue validity effect for aversive pictures relative to neutral and pleasant pictures, suggestive of attentional avoidance of the aversive content. The emotional content of picture cues did not significantly affect reaction time in males, regardless of anxiety status. The results suggest that biased attention processes for aversive stimuli may contribute to the greater female propensity for anxiety disorders.
Behaviour Research and Therapy