Attentional bias in anxiety: selective or not?
Under certain circumstances, anxiety has been shown to be associated with a processing bias favouring threatening information. Much of the evidence has come from experiments utilising the modified Stroop colour-naming paradigm. However, the traditional Stroop stimuli does not allow for a good test of selective attention. The present study presented colour, neutral and threatening words in conditions where the distracting (word) and target (colour) information were presented: (i) together; or (ii) separately. High trait-anxious Ss took longer to colour-name threatening words than neutral words, even when the threatening material was presented outside the focus of attention. There were no differential responses to threat and neutral words for low trait-anxious Ss. High trait-anxious Ss were also distracted by separate colour words, which produced no interference for the low-anxious Ss. These results suggest that high-trait anxiety may be associated with a general inability to maintain attentional focus, rather than by an automatic attentional bias towards threatening information.