Selective processing of masked and unmasked verbal threat material in anxiety: Influence of an immediate acute stressor

  • Edwards M
  • Burt J
  • Lipp O
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Abstract

Attentional biases for threat were investigated using a computerised version of the emotional Stroop task. The study examined the influence of state and trait anxiety by employing a student sample assigned to high trait anxious (HTA; n=32) or low trait anxious (LTA; n=32) groups on the basis of questionnaire scores, and state anxiety was manipulated within participants through the threat of electric shock. Threatening words that were either unrelated (e.g., cancer, danger) or related to the threat of shock (e.g., electrocute, shock) were presented to participants both within and outside of awareness. In the latter condition a backward masking procedure was used to prevent awareness and exposure thresholds between the target and mask were individually set for each participant. For unmasked trials the HTA group showed significant interference in colour naming for all threat words relative to control words when performing under the threat of shock, but not in the shock safe condition. For the masked trials, despite chance performance in being able to identify the lexical status of the items, HTA participants showed facilitated colour naming for all threat words relative to control items when performing under threat of shock, but this effect was not evident in the shock safe condition. Neither valence of the items nor the threat of shock influenced colour naming latencies in either exposure mode for the LTA group.

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