Anxiety and the deployment of visual attention over time

Barnard, P. J.; Ramponi, C.; Battye, G. and Mackintosh, B. (2005). Anxiety and the deployment of visual attention over time. Visual Cognition, 12(1) pp. 181–211.



Two studies investigated the effects of anxiety on the time course of attention to threatening material. A rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) paradigm required report of words belonging to a prespecified semantic category with a distractor placed at varying positions preceding the target. Where there was little resemblance in meaning between distractors and targets, threat distractors briefly captured the attention of high state anxious individuals but only after a delay. Where distractors resembled the meaning of the targets, attention was captured more immediately, but processing of threat-related material was concentrated at different points in time as a function of both the degree of semantic resemblance between distractors and target, and state anxiety. The extent to which distractors are salient to the experimental task influences attentional capture and the temporal course of processing. The methodological implications of these results are discussed together with a new hypothesis about the effects of state anxiety on attention.

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