Flexible attention deployment in threatening contexts: An instructed fear conditioning study

Tomer Shechner*, Tatiana Pelc, Daniel S. Pine, Nathan A. Fox, Yair Bar-Haim

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Factors leading humans to shift attention away from danger cues remain poorly understood. Two laboratory experiments reported here show that context interacts with learning experiences to shape attention avoidance of mild danger cues. The first experiment exposed 18 participants to contextual threat of electric shock. Attention allocation to mild danger cues was then assessed with the dot-probe task. Results showed that contextual threat caused subjects to avert attention from danger cues. In the second experiment, 36 participants were conditioned to the same contextual threat used in Experiment 1. These subjects then were randomly assigned to either an experimental group, trained to shift attention toward danger cues, or a placebo group exposed to the same stimuli without the training component. As in Experiment 1, contextual threat again caused attention allocation away from danger in the control group. However, this did not occur in the experimental group. These experiments show that acute contextual threat and learning experiences interact to shape the deployment of attention away from danger cues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1041-1049
Number of pages9
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • Acute stress
  • Attention bias
  • Attention training
  • Instructed fear conditioning


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