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Visual attention and cognitive biases to threat in anxiety

Visual attention and cognitive biases to threat in anxiety
Visual attention and cognitive biases to threat in anxiety
Anxiety disorders are prevalent throughout the lifespan and are associated with a number of negative effects on an individual’s quality of life. A large body of research has adopted a cognitive approach to explore factors that are involved in the development and maintenance of elevated anxiety. Cognitive theories of anxiety emphasise the importance of attentional processes and propose that anxiety is characterised by selective attention to threat (e.g., Mogg & Bradley, 1998), impaired attentional control (Eysenck, Derakshan, Santos & Calvo, 2007) and/or hypervigilance and enhanced threat detection (Eysenck, 1992).

This thesis utilised eye movement and reaction time measures to explore the relationship between anxiety and the cognitive mechanisms underlying the localisation and detection of threat. Across four studies the results showed that anxiety was not associated with an enhanced ability to locate threatening stimuli (Experiments 1 and 4).

Anxiety was associated with impaired attentional control; individuals with higher levels of anxiety were slower to orient attention towards a task-relevant stimulus in the presence of a threatening distractor (Experiment 2). This effect was apparent even when threatening distractors were presented in peripheral locations, indicating that anxious individuals were able to detect threat within a broad focus of attention. Furthermore, by adopting a broad focus of attention, individuals with higher levels of anxiety were able to integrate threatening information from multiple locations across the visual field; thereby facilitating threat detection in the presence of multiple (vs. single) threats (Experiment 3).

Taken together, the findings indicate that anxiety is characterised by a tendency to maintain a broad focus of attention, where this strategy leads to enhanced threat detection and increased distraction from task-irrelevant threat across the visual field
Richards, Helen
1b6ae149-cf71-4378-9574-61bf6616f3e0
Richards, Helen
1b6ae149-cf71-4378-9574-61bf6616f3e0

Richards, Helen (2011) Visual attention and cognitive biases to threat in anxiety. University of Southampton, Psychology, Doctoral Thesis, 241pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

Anxiety disorders are prevalent throughout the lifespan and are associated with a number of negative effects on an individual’s quality of life. A large body of research has adopted a cognitive approach to explore factors that are involved in the development and maintenance of elevated anxiety. Cognitive theories of anxiety emphasise the importance of attentional processes and propose that anxiety is characterised by selective attention to threat (e.g., Mogg & Bradley, 1998), impaired attentional control (Eysenck, Derakshan, Santos & Calvo, 2007) and/or hypervigilance and enhanced threat detection (Eysenck, 1992).

This thesis utilised eye movement and reaction time measures to explore the relationship between anxiety and the cognitive mechanisms underlying the localisation and detection of threat. Across four studies the results showed that anxiety was not associated with an enhanced ability to locate threatening stimuli (Experiments 1 and 4).

Anxiety was associated with impaired attentional control; individuals with higher levels of anxiety were slower to orient attention towards a task-relevant stimulus in the presence of a threatening distractor (Experiment 2). This effect was apparent even when threatening distractors were presented in peripheral locations, indicating that anxious individuals were able to detect threat within a broad focus of attention. Furthermore, by adopting a broad focus of attention, individuals with higher levels of anxiety were able to integrate threatening information from multiple locations across the visual field; thereby facilitating threat detection in the presence of multiple (vs. single) threats (Experiment 3).

Taken together, the findings indicate that anxiety is characterised by a tendency to maintain a broad focus of attention, where this strategy leads to enhanced threat detection and increased distraction from task-irrelevant threat across the visual field

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Published date: 13 May 2011
Organisations: University of Southampton

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Local EPrints ID: 187379
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/187379
PURE UUID: d3960ac5-4400-40e1-95e4-d4254cfc645e

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Date deposited: 24 May 2011 10:38
Last modified: 29 Jan 2020 14:32

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