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Behav Res Ther. 2004 Oct;42(10):1183-92.

Selective attention to threat in the dot probe paradigm: differentiating vigilance and difficulty to disengage.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium.


The dot probe task [J Abnorm Psychol 95 (1986) 15] is an often-used paradigm to investigate selective attention to threat. A facilitated response to probes that appear at the same location of threat information in comparison with responses to probes at the opposite location of threat information is interpreted as vigilance for threat. We argue that the findings in the dot probe paradigm are ambiguous evidence for the vigilance to threat hypothesis. Results can also be interpreted as a difficulty to disengage from threat. In this study, 44 undergraduates performed a pictorial version of the probe detection task. Taking into account the reaction times on neutral trials, we found no evidence for a facilitated detection of threatening information. It was found that the dot probe effects are at least partially due to disengagement effects. The implications of these results for the understanding of attentional bias in normal and anxious individuals are discussed.

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