The influence of anxiety on processing capacity for threat detection

Richards, Helen J., Hadwin, Julie A., Benson, Valerie orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0351-4563, Wenger, Michael J. and Donnelly, Nick (2011) The influence of anxiety on processing capacity for threat detection. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 18 (883). ISSN 1069-9384

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In the present study, we explored the proposition that an individual’s capacity for threat detection is related to his or her trait anxiety. Using a redundant signals paradigm with concurrent measurements of reaction times and eye movements, participants indicated the presence or absence of an emotional target face (angry or happy) in displays containing no targets, one target, or two targets. We used estimates of the orderings on the hazard functions of the RT distributions as measures of processing capacity (Townsend & Ashby, 1978; Wenger & Gibson, Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance, 30,708–719, 2004) to assess whether self-reported anxiety and the affective state of the face interacted with the level of perceptual load (i.e., the number of targets). Results indicated that anxiety was associated with fewer eye movements and increased processing capacity to detect multiple (vs. single) threatening faces. The data are consistent with anxiety influencing threat detection via a broadly tuned attentional mechanism (Eysenck, Derakshan, Santos, & Calvo, Emotion, 7,336–353, 2007).

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