Attentional Bias for Threat: Evidence for Delayed Disengagement from Emotional Faces.
Fox E., Russo R., Dutton K.
The present paper reports three new experiments suggesting that the valence of a face cue can influence attentional effects in a cueing paradigm. Moreover, heightened trait anxiety resulted in increased attentional dwell-time on emotional facial stimuli, relative to neutral faces. Experiment 1 presented a cueing task, in which the cue was either an "angry", "happy", or "neutral" facial expression. Targets could appear either in the same location as the face (valid trials) or in a different location to the face (invalid trials). Participants did not show significant variations across the different cue types (angry, happy, neutral) in responding to a target on valid trials. However, the valence of the face did affect response times on invalid trials. Specifically, participants took longer to respond to a target when the face cue was "angry" or "happy" relative to neutral. In Experiment 2, the cue-target stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) was increased and an overall inhibition of return (IOR) effect was found (i.e., slower responses on valid trials). However, the "angry" face cue eliminated the IOR effect for both high and low trait anxious groups. In Experiment 3, threat-related and jumbled facial stimuli reduced the magnitude of IOR for high, but not for low, trait-anxious participants.These results suggest that: (i) attentional bias in anxiety may reflect a difficulty in disengaging from threat-related and emotional stimuli, and (ii) threat-related and ambiguous cues can influence the magnitude of the IOR effect.