Selective Attention and Health Anxiety: Ill-Health Stimuli are Distracting for Everyone
Psychological theories of anxiety are increasingly referring to information processing paradigms in order to understand the cognitive processes which underlie these disorders. Numerous studies of anxiety have demonstrated an attentional bias towards anxiety relevant stimuli. In addition, there is consistent evidence that it is more difficult to process absent than present information. Prior research has suggested that both these processing biases contribute to the maintenance of health anxiety. The present study investigated differences in attentional processing between participants high and low in health anxiety, using two visual search tasks. The visual search tasks used either letters (domain free stimuli), or words (anxietyrelated stimuli). Both low and high health anxious participants demonstrated poorer performance for target absent than target present trials. In addition, all participants showed an attentional bias towards ill-health words over good-health, negative, positive, or neutral words. These results suggest that concern about health is relevant to all people regardless of level of health anxiety.
Cognitive Therapy and Research
Health, Clinical and Counselling Psychology