Affective primes suppress attention bias to threat in socially anxious individuals

Sarah M. Helfinstein*, Lauren K. White, Yair Bar-Haim, Nathan A. Fox

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Anxious individuals show an attention bias towards threatening information. However, under conditions of sustained environmental threat this otherwise-present attention bias disappears. It remains unclear whether this suppression of attention bias can be caused by a transient activation of the fear system. In the present experiment, high socially anxious and low socially anxious individuals (HSA group, n=12; LSA group, n=12) performed a modified dot-probe task in which they were shown either a neutral or socially threatening prime word prior to each trial. EEG was collected and ERP components to the prime and faces displays were computed. HSA individuals showed an attention bias to threat after a neutral prime, but no attention bias after a threatening prime, demonstrating that suppression of attention bias can occur after a transient activation of the fear system. LSA individuals showed an opposite pattern: no evidence of a bias to threat with neutral primes but induction of an attention bias to threat following threatening primes. ERP results suggested differential processing of the prime and faces displays by HSA and LSA individuals. However, no group by prime interaction was found for any of ERP components.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)799-810
Number of pages12
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Volume46
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2008

Keywords

  • Attention bias
  • ERP
  • Priming
  • Social anxiety
  • Social information processing
  • Threat

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