Brief time course of trait anxiety-related attentional bias to fearconditioned stimuli: evidence from the dual-RSVP task
AuthorBooth, Robert William
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CitationBooth, R. W. (2017). Brief time course of trait anxiety-related attentional bias to fear-conditioned stimuli: Evidence from the dual-RSVP task. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 54, 71-76. http://dx.doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2016.06.007
Background and objectives Attentional bias to threat is a much-studied feature of anxiety; it is typically assessed using response time (RT) tasks such as the dot probe. Findings regarding the time course of attentional bias have been inconsistent, possibly because RT tasks are sensitive to processes downstream of attention. Methods Attentional bias was assessed using an accuracy-based task in which participants detected a single digit in two simultaneous rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) streams of letters. Before the target, two coloured shapes were presented simultaneously, one in each RSVP stream; one shape had previously been associated with threat through Pavlovian fear conditioning. Attentional bias was indicated wherever participants identified targets in the threat’s RSVP stream more accurately than targets in the other RSVP stream. Results In 87 unselected undergraduates, trait anxiety only predicted attentional bias when the target was presented immediately following the shapes, i.e. 160 ms later; by 320 ms the bias had disappeared. This suggests attentional bias in anxiety can be extremely brief and transitory. Limitations This initial study utilised an analogue sample, and was unable to physiologically verify the efficacy of the conditioning. The next steps will be to verify these results in a sample of diagnosed anxious patients, and to use alternative threat stimuli. Conclusions The results of studies using response time to assess the time course of attentional bias may partially reflect later processes such as decision making and response preparation. This may limit the efficacy of therapies aiming to retrain attentional biases using response time tasks.