Anxiety patients exhibit attentional biases toward threat, which have often been demonstrated as increased distractibility by threatening stimuli. In contrast, speeded detection of threat has rarely been shown. Therefore, the authors studied both phenomena in 3 versions of a visual search task while eye movements were recorded continuously. Spider-fearful individuals and nonanxious control participants participated in a target search task, an odd-one-out search task, and a category search task. Evidence for disorder-specific increased distraction by threat was found in all tasks, whereas speeded threat detection did not occur in the target search task. The implications of these findings for cognitive theories of anxiety are discussed, particularly in relation to the concept of disengagement from threat.
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