Through the eyes of anxiety: Dissecting threat bias via emotional-binocular rivalry

Neomi Singer, Mariam Eapen, Christian Grillon, Leslie G. Ungerleider, Talma Hendler*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


An extensive body of research has demonstrated that anxious individuals abnormally process threat-related content. Yet, the manner in which clinical anxiety affects the selection of threatening signals and their maintenance within consciousness is yet to be explored. The present study used an emotional binocular rivalry (e-BR) procedure, in which pictures of faces depicting either fearful or neutral expressions competed with pictures of a house for conscious perception. We assumed that first- or cumulative-preferred perception of faces with fearful over neutral expression (i.e., initial or sustained threat bias, respectively) stand for preferential selection or maintenance of fear content in awareness, correspondingly. Unmedicated patients with social anxiety disorder (SAD) and panic disorder (PAD) were compared to healthy controls for threat-related perceptual biases in the e-BR. At first perception of face, both SAD and PAD patients showed a greater initial threat bias than healthy controls. In contrast, at cumulative dwell-time of face, patient groups demonstrated a diminished sustained threat bias relative to healthy controls, yet in a different manner. SAD patients showed a sustained threat bias, though it was smaller than in healthy controls. Furthermore, increased levels of reported anxiety among SAD patients were associated with enhanced sustained perception of neutral faces. PAD patients, on the other hand, showed no sustained threat bias and a diminished cumulative perception of fearful faces with increased levels of anxiety traits. These findings indicate that anxiety disorders commonly involve an initially enhanced selection of threat signals into awareness, followed by disorder-specific manifestation of diminished preferred maintenance of threat in awareness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)960-969
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2012


FundersFunder number
National Institute of Mental HealthZIAMH002918


    • Binocular rivalry
    • Information processing
    • Panic disorder
    • Social anxiety disorder
    • Threat bias


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