State anxiety in healthy people can increase their vulnerability to neutral but not to unpleasant distraction in working memory

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Abstract

Unpleasant irrelevant events are known to negatively affect our capacity to maintain neutral but taskrelevant information in working memory (WM). In parallel, anxiety biases our attentional responses to those stimuli that may be potentially threatening in order to adaptively enhance their detection and assessment. In this study, we investigated differences between healthy anxious and non-anxious volunteers while they performed a WM task in which neutral and unpleasant pictures were presented as distractors. Our results revealed that state anxiety could increase the interfering effect of neutral but not unpleasant distractors. These findings are discussed in regard to previous studies suggesting that anxiety and acute stress can decrease the level of specificity in the vigilance mechanism that serves to optimize the detection and evaluation of threats.

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García-Pacios, J., Del Río, D., & Maestú, F. (2014). State anxiety in healthy people can increase their vulnerability to neutral but not to unpleasant distraction in working memory. Clinica y Salud, 25(3), 181–185. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clysa.2014.10.002

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