Positive attentional biases moderate the link between attentional bias for threat and anxiety

Publication Name

Current Psychology


Attentional bias for threat (ABT) has been implicated as a central mechanism underpinning anxiety. However, documented inconsistencies in the link between ABT and anxiety do not support a purely psychopathological view of ABT. While ABT is thought to be concomitant with the tendency to be less attentive to positive stimuli, neuroimaging evidence for the functional independence of positive and negative information-processing systems suggests this need not be the case. This may hold important implications for understanding the inconsistently observed ABT-anxiety link. To this end, the current study examined whether qualitative differences in positive attentional biases captured on a dot probe task would moderate the association between ABT and anxiety (N = 232). Findings indicated that ABT (indexed within the same task) was associated with self-reported anxiety only among persons characterised by an attentional bias away from positive stimuli, but not those characterised by an attentional bias towards positive stimuli. However, positive attentional biases did not independently predict anxiety, suggesting this selective association occurred against a backdrop of individuals experiencing similar levels of anxiety. Present findings hold implications for the design of behavioural training programs which target anxiety though the reduction of ABT, and emphasise the complex origins of anxiety.

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