Selective processing of threatening words in anxiety: The role of awareness
In three experiments, high and low trait-anxious individuals were required to classify a centrally located number as odd or even while ignoring spatially separate threat-related or neutral words. It was found that high anxious subjects showed a selective bias to process threatening stimuli when the stimuli were pattern masked after a brief exposure (14msec). However, this automatic processing bias was apparent only under certain conditions: distractors were within focal attention; masked and unmasked distractors were randomly intermixed; or masked trials were presented after unmasked trials. These results suggest that automatic processing biases in high traitanxious individuals are influenced by contextual factors. There was also a suggestion of a qualitative difference in attentional bias between conscious (unmasked) and nonconscious (masked) states, providing evidence for perception without awareness. The theoretical implications of these results are discussed.