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Behav Res Ther. 2008 May;46(5):656-67. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2008.02.011. Epub 2008 Mar 4.

Effects of threat cues on attentional shifting, disengagement and response slowing in anxious individuals.

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School of Psychology, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southhampton SO17 1BJ, UK.


According to cognitive models of anxiety, attentional biases for threat may cause or maintain anxiety states. Previous research using spatial cueing tasks has been interpreted in terms of difficulty in disengaging attention from threat in anxious individuals, as indicated by contrasts of response times (RTs) from threat cue versus neutral cue trials. However, on spatial cueing tasks, differences in RT between threat cue and neutral cue trials may stem from a slowing effect of threat on RT, as well as effects on allocation of visuospatial attention. The present study examined the effects of threat cues on both attentional cueing and response slowing. High and low anxious individuals completed a central cue task, which assessed threat-related response slowing, and a spatial cueing task, which assessed attentional biases for angry, happy and neutral faces. Results indicated that interpretation of the anxiety-related bias for threat depended on whether the effect of response slowing was taken into account. The study illustrates an important problem in using the modified spatial cueing task to assess components of threat-related attentional bias. As this experimental method may reflect both threat-related attentional cueing and response slowing effects, it cannot be assumed to provide pure measures of shift or disengagement components of attention bias.

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