Phenomenological characteristics of attentional biases towards threat: A critical review

  • Cisler J
  • Bacon A
  • Williams N
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Abstract

Although research has consistently revealed the presence of a general attentional bias towards threat, empirical and theoretical ambiguity exists in determining whether attentional biases are comprised of facilitated attention to threat, difficulty in disengagement from threat, or both, as well as whether attentional biases reflect automatic or strategic processes. This paper reviews empirical investigations across 4 common assessment tasks: the Stroop (masked and unmasked), dot probe, visual search, and the Posner tasks. Although the review finds inconsistencies both within and between assessment tasks, the evidence suggests that attentional biases towards threat are comprised of each of the phenomenological characteristics addressed in this paper. Contemporary theoretical models of attentional biases in anxiety are summarized and critically reviewed in light of the current evidence. Suggestions for future research are addressed, including a need to investigate the psychometric properties of the assessment tasks, to utilize consistent theoretically driven operationalizations of attentional biases, and to provide a temporal description of the characteristics of attentional biases towards threat.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Anxiety
  • Attentional biases
  • Dot probe
  • Information processing biases
  • Stroop

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