Threat-Related Attentional Bias in Relation to Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms in the General Population: The Potential Role of Sex Effects
Date of Degree
Deborah J. Walder
Clinical Psychology | Cognitive Psychology | Psychology
emotional Stroop, anxiety, depression, non-clinical, attentional bias
Heightened sensitivity to relevant environmental stimuli (attentional bias) has been observed in relation to clinical and non-clinical anxiety and depression symptoms. While depression symptoms are associated with sensitivity to disorder and self-relevant words, hypervigilance to threatening stimuli is observed in relation to anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, attentional bias has been shown to play an important role in the development and maintenance of depressive and anxiety disorders. Accordingly, a large body of literature has examined threat-related attentional bias in relation to symptoms of anxiety and depression. However, several methodological inconsistencies exist across studies, including variability in definitions of threat, lack of consideration of differential aspects of anxiety (physical arousal versus general distress), and the overlooked potential role of sex effects. Therefore, the current study examined the specificity of threat-related attentional bias (for fear, disgust, anger, sadness), using a verbal emotional Stroop task (EST), among individuals from the general population reporting varying degrees of non-clinical symptoms of physical arousal, depression, and general distress (worry). The potential moderating effects of sex in the relationships of threat-related attentional bias with these symptoms were considered. One hundred twenty five (37 men/88 women) undergraduate students were asked to complete a self-report questionnaire of mood and anxiety symptoms and a computerized EST. In the total sample, symptoms of general distress (worry) alone predicted greater threat-related attentional bias to disgust words. Among women, symptoms of general distress predicted greater engagement with fear and disgust words, whereas physical arousal predicted greater engagement with disgust words alone. Among men, symptoms of physical arousal predicted greater avoidance of disgust words, whereas symptoms of general distress predicted greater avoidance of fear words. Accordingly, disgust and fear may both underlie threat in relation to symptoms of anxiety. Findings of the current study point to the importance of considering the specificity of negative emotions, subtypes of anxiety, and the effects of sex when examining threat-related attentional bias in relation to symptoms of mood and anxiety. Findings hold potential to delineate the specific nature of threat-related attentional bias observed in relation to anxiety symptoms and to inform treatment strategies that target threat bias in anxiety.
Yaffe, Beril, "Threat-Related Attentional Bias in Relation to Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms in the General Population: The Potential Role of Sex Effects" (2018). CUNY Academic Works.