Reducing Anxiety: Training Attentional Disengagement from Threat Using a Modified Spatial Cueing Task


Rosemead School of Psychology

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It is well established that trait anxious individuals have an attentional bias for threatening information and stimuli, as demonstrated through both the dot probe and cueing paradigms. In recent efforts to reduce attentional biases and minimize anxiety symptomatology, variations of the dot probe task have been used to train attention away from threat. However, under this paradigm, it is uncertain what the underlying mechanism for attentional bias is. Is anxiety being perpetuated by a shift in attention to threat or does it result from one's inhibited ability to disengage from threat once it is attended to? The purpose of the present study was to train attention away from threat using a cueing task, thus isolating attentional biases to difficulties in disengaging from threat. The goal of this task was to train attention by manipulating the contingency between the location of a target and a threatening or affectively neutral pictorial cue. Eighty-nine trait anxious college students participated in this study. It was hypothesized that participants in training groups would be able to disengage from threat faster and subsequently show a greater decrease in state anxiety when compared to controls. However, the data failed to support the primary hypotheses of this study. Interestingly, none of the groups showed an attentional threat bias at pretest, which makes it difficult to evaluate the efficacy of the training task. Future research should continue to focus on developing alternative training techniques that can target the mechanism(s) responsible for attentional biases in anxious individuals.


Anxiety disorders;

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SOJ Psychology





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