Date of Degree

6-2022

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.S.

Program

Cognitive Neuroscience

Advisor

Tracy Dennis-Tiwary

Committee Members

Tatiana Emmanouil

Tony Ro

Subject Categories

Cognitive Neuroscience

Keywords

Anxiety, attention bias, SSVEP, EEG, steady-state visually evoked potentials

Abstract

Anxiety-related attention bias (AB), a type of cognitive bias underlying the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders, is typically defined as exaggerated attention towards threat; however, some individuals also demonstrate AB away from threat and in some instances, no detectable AB at all. Debate about the reliability and validity of AB behavioral measures has prompted examination of additional assessment methods. Neurophysiological methods, such electroencephalography (EEG), have yielded encouraging early findings. The steady-state visually evoked potential (SSVEP), a measure of selective visual attention derived from EEG, holds promise as a biosignature for AB. Research documents heightened SSVEP power to emotionally salient stimuli such as threat faces among those with social anxiety; however, less is known about the association between SSVEP to threat and neutral stimuli among those with varying anxiety severity and subtypes. This study explored these questions, hypothesizing that those with severe anxiety as well as those with an anxiety diagnosis would show the greatest magnitude SSVEP power to threat faces relative to neutral faces. SSVEP power was extracted from EEG recordings generated while 95 adults completed a modified dot probe task in which angry and neutral face pairs flickered at unique frequencies. Contrary to our hypotheses, results showed that SSVEP to threat was not heightened among those with severe anxiety relative to those with mild or moderate anxiety; however, a significant interaction among emotion, hemisphere, and frequency emerged for those with an anxiety diagnosis showing differential magnitude of the SSVEP for neutral stimuli: 12Hz, but not 15Hz, SSVEP power in the right hemisphere to neutral stimuli was marginally greater than in the left hemisphere. This unique pattern of electrocortical facilitation to non-arousing stimuli is consistent with the idea that anxious individuals may process and attend to neutral or ambiguous stimuli differently than non-anxious individuals.

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