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Difficulty in disengaging attention from threatening facial expressions in anxiety: A new approach in terms of benefits

Abstract : Background and objectives: Recent work suggests that the ability to disengage attention from threatening information is impaired in anxiety. The present study compared the difficulty to disengage from angry, fearful and neutral faces in Low Trait Anxious individuals (LTA) versus High Trait Anxious individuals (HTA) at two stages of facial expression processing (i.e., initial and later face processing).Methods: HTA and LTA individuals performed an attentional shifting task to assess attentional disengagement. Participants had to classify a peripheral target letter, appearing 200 or 500 ms after a face was displayed.Results: LTA individuals were quicker when the letter appears after 500 ms compared to 200 ms regardless of the emotion of the face. An impaired disengagement in HTA individuals was observed for fearful and angry faces (i.e., no reaction differences between 200 and 500 ms) but not for neutral faces. These results suggest that it is particularly difficult for anxious individuals to switch attention from one stimulus to another if the engaged stimulus is a threatening face.Limitations: Generalisation of our results is restricted to trait anxiety and emotional facial expression processing.Conclusions: LTA individuals can benefit from the emotional processing (i.e., from 200 to 500 ms) to make a rapid attentional shift and engagement to the target stimuli whereas HTA individuals did not and continue to process the threatening facial expression. These results also point out the role of top down processes on the regulation of disengagement from threatening information in anxiety.
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Contributor : Céline Douilliez <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - 4:00:24 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, November 3, 2020 - 2:16:01 PM




Leleu Vincent, Céline Douilliez, Stéphane Rusinek. Difficulty in disengaging attention from threatening facial expressions in anxiety: A new approach in terms of benefits. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, Elsevier, 2014, 45 (1), pp.203-207. ⟨10.1016/j.jbtep.2013.10.007⟩. ⟨hal-01096496⟩



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