Content specificity of attention bias to threat in anxiety disorders: A meta-analysis

Lee Pergamin-Hight, Reut Naim*, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg, Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, Yair Bar-Haim

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Despite the established evidence for threat-related attention bias in anxiety, the mechanisms underlying this bias remain unclear. One important unresolved question is whether disorder-congruent threats capture attention to a greater extent than do more general or disorder-incongruent threat stimuli. Evidence for attention bias specificity in anxiety would implicate involvement of previous learning and memory processes in threat-related attention bias, whereas lack of content specificity would point to perturbations in more generic attention processes. Enhanced clarity of mechanism could have clinical implications for the stimuli types used in Attention Bias Modification Treatments (ABMT). Content specificity of threat-related attention bias in anxiety and potential moderators of this effect were investigated. A systematic search identified 37 samples from 29 articles (N = 866). Relevant data were extracted based on specific coding rules, and Cohen'. s d effect size was used to estimate bias specificity effects. The results indicate greater attention bias toward disorder-congruent relative to disorder-incongruent threat stimuli (d = 0.28, p< 0.0001). This effect was not moderated by age, type of anxiety disorder, visual attention tasks, or type of disorder-incongruent stimuli. No evidence of publication bias was observed. Implications for threat bias in anxiety and ABMT are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-18
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Psychology Review
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2015


  • Anxiety
  • Attention
  • Attention bias modification
  • Threat


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