Attention bias towards negative emotional information and its relationship with daily worry in the context of acute stress: An eye-tracking study
Cognitive theories of anxiety psychopathology cite biased attention towards threat as a central vulnerability and maintaining factor. However, many studies have found threat bias indices to have poor reliability and have failed to observe the theorized relationship between threat bias and anxiety symptoms; this may be due to the non-unitary nature of threat bias and the influence of state-level variables on its expression. Accumulating data suggests that state anxious mood is important for the robust expression of threat bias and for relations to emerge between threat bias and symptoms, though this possibility has not been experimentally tested. Eye-tracking was used to assess multiple forms of threat bias (i.e., early vigilance, sustained attention, facilitated engagement, delayed disengagement) thought to be related to anxiety. A non-clinical sample (N = 165) was recruited to test the hypothesis that biased attention towards threat, but not dysphoric or positive emotional stimuli, during an anxious mood induction, but not at a pre-stress baseline, would prospectively predict greater worry symptoms on days in which more naturalistic stressors occurred. Results revealed the hypothesized moderation effect for sustained attention towards threat after the mood induction but not at baseline, though sustained attention towards dysphoric stimuli also moderated the effect of stressors on worry. Worry-relevant sustained attention towards negative emotional stimuli may be a partially mood-context dependent phenomenon.
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