State anxiety impairs attentional control when other sources of control are minimal
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CitationBooth, R. W., & Peker, M. (2016). State anxiety impairs attentional control when other sources of control are minimal. Cognition and Emotion, advance online publication 1(8), http://dx/.doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2016.1172474
Research suggests anxiety impairs attentional control; however, this effect has been unreliable. We argue that anxiety’s impairment of attentional control is subtle, and can be obscured by other non-emotional sources of control. We demonstrate this by examining conflict adaptation, an enhancement in attentional control following a trial with high conflict between distracter and target stimuli. Participants completed a Stroop task featuring incongruent (e.g. RED in green font; high-conflict) and control (e.g. +++ in green font; low-conflict) trials. More state-anxious participants showed greater Stroop interference following control trials, but interference was uniformly low following incongruent trials. This suggests state anxiety can impair attention, but other sources of top-down control – such as conflict adaptation – can easily overcome this impairment. This is consistent with recent theories of anxious cognition and shows that anxiety researchers must attend to the dynamics and sources of attentional control.