Selective attention to threat: a test of two cognitive models

  • Mogg K
  • McNamara J
  • Powys M
 et al. 
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Two experiments evaluated differential predictions from two cognitive formulations of anxiety. According to one view, attentional biases for threat reflect vulnerability to anxiety; and as threat inputs increase, high trait anxious individuals should become more vigilant, and low trait individuals more avoidant, of threat (Williams, Watts, MacLeod, & Mathews, 1988, 1997). However, according to a "cognitive-motivational" view, trait anxiety influences the appraisal of stimulus threat value, rather than the direction of attentional bias, and both high and low trait anxious individuals should exhibit greater vigilance for high rather than mild threat stimuli (Mogg & Bradley, 1998). To test these predictions, two experiments examined the effect of manipulating stimulus threat value on the direction of attentional bias. The stimuli included high threat and mild threat pictorial scenes presented in a probe detection task. Results from both studies indicated a significant main effect of stimulus threat value on attentional bias, as there was increased vigilance or reduced avoidance of threat, as threat value increased. This effect was found even within low trait anxious individuals, consistent with the "cognitive-motivational" view. Theoretical and clinical implications are discussed.

Author-supplied keywords

  • bf psychology
  • r medicine (general)

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  • Karin Mogg

  • James McNamara

  • Mark Powys

  • Hanna Rawlinson

  • Anna Sieffer

  • Brendan P Bradley

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