Attentional Biases in Processing Emotional Facial Expressions: Effects of State Anxiety, Trait Anxiety and Awareness

  •  Mark Edwards    


The effect of state anxiety and trait anxiety on selective attention for threatening, neutral and happy schematic faces was investigated. A student sample was assigned to high trait anxious (HTA) or low trait anxious (LTA) groups using questionnaire scores and state anxiety was manipulated through the threat of electric shock. Stimulus materials were presented both outside (using a backward masking procedure) and within awareness. A novel version of a probe classification task was developed to assess performance when distracting information and the central task were spatially separated. For the masked trials, the LTA group were slower to identify the status of the probe on happy face trials relative to threat face trials in the shock safe condition, and slower on threat face trials relative to happy face trials in the shock threat condition. For the HTA group, performance on the probe status task was unaffected by shock condition status or item valence for the masked exposures. During the unmasked exposure trials neither trait anxiety status, item valence nor shock condition affected response latencies to the probes. Results are interpreted with respect to contemporary models of attention and anxiety.

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