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Cogn Emot. 2017 Jun;31(4):781-790. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2016.1152953. Epub 2016 Feb 29.

Eye-movement evidence of the time-course of attentional bias for threatening pictures in test-anxious students.

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a Key Laboratory of Child Development and Learning Science , Southeast University, Ministry of Education , Nanjing , People's Republic of China.
c Institute for Management Research , Radboud University , Nijmegen , The Netherlands.
f Department of Personnel Management, Work and Organizational Psychology , Ghent University , Ghent , Belgium.
b Department of Psychology, School of Social and Behavior Sciences , Nanjing University , Nanjing , People's Republic of China.
d State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning , Beijing Normal University , Beijing , People's Republic of China.
e Beijing Key Lab of Applied Experimental Psychology, School of Psychology , Beijing Normal University , Beijing , People's Republic of China.


Protocols for measuring attentional bias to threat in test-anxiety, a special form of trait-anxiety, are rarely found in the literature. In our eye-tracking study, we introduced a new protocol, and studied the time-course of attention to test-related pictures with varying threat levels in 22 high test-anxious (HTA) and 22 low test-anxious (LTA) subjects. To determine whether attentional bias to test-related pictures is due to test-anxiety and not to state-anxiety, we also included a third group of 22 subjects with high state-anxiety but low test-anxiety (HSA). The subjects completed a free viewing task (FVT) in which high threat-neutral (HT-N) and low threat-neutral (LT-N) picture pairs were presented for 3 s. The results demonstrated that: (1) HTA subjects showed initial orienting to LT pictures, early attentional engagement with HT pictures later on and avoidance of HT pictures at the very end; (2) LTA subjects showed initial orienting to HT pictures and maintenance of attention on them later on; while (3) HSA subjects showed an initial orientation towards LT pictures and maintenance of attention on LT and HT pictures later on. These results suggest that, (high) test-anxiety is also prone to attentional bias towards test-related threat stimuli. Implications for future research are discussed.


Test-anxiety; attentional bias; avoidance; time-course; vigilance

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