Modulation of auditory spatial attention by visual emotional cues: differential effects of attentional engagement and disengagement for pleasant and unpleasant cues
Previous research using attentional search tasks has revealed an anxiety-related bias favouring attention to threatening words when they are presented simultaneously with emotionally neutral words. In Experiment 1, using a similar task, a related effect was found here with emotionally threatening pictures. When pictures were used as location cues in a second experiment, high-trait anxious individuals were slower than less anxious controls when responding to targets requiring attentional disengagement from threat, and they were slower in general with pictures judged to be highly threatening. In a third experiment using the same task but with a longer cue exposure, a related disengagement difficulty occurred across both groups, although the more general slowing with severe threat was again confined to the anxious group. We conclude that attentional bias involves both a specific difficulty in disengaging attention from the location of any threat and a more general interference effect that is related to threat level.