Anxiety moderates the interplay between cognitive and affective processing.

Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706-1696, USA.
Psychological Science (Impact Factor: 4.43). 09/2007; 18(8):699-705. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01963.x
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Evidence suggests that focus of attention and cognitive load may each affect emotional processing and that individual differences in anxiety moderate such effects. We examined (a) fear-potentiated startle (FPS) under threat-focused (TF), low-load/alternative-set (LL/AS), and high-load/alternative-set (HL/AS) conditions and (b) the moderating effect of trait anxiety on FPS across these conditions. As predicted, redirecting attentional focus away from threat cues and increasing cognitive load reduced FPS. However, the moderating effects of anxiety were specific to the LL/AS condition. Whereas FPS was comparable for high-anxiety and low-anxiety subjects in the TF and HL/AS conditions, FPS was significantly greater for high-anxiety than for low-anxiety subjects in the LL/AS condition. These results suggest that affective processing requires attentional resources and that exaggerated threat processing in anxious individuals relates to direction of attention rather than emotional reactivity per se.

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