Examining attentional biases underlying trait anxiety in younger and older adults.

Burgess MM, Cabeleira CM, Cabrera I, Bucks RS, MacLeod C.


Previous research has not adequately assessed the independent contributions of component attentional processes to anxiety-linked biases. MacLeod and Sadler developed a novel, lexical decision task using negative and neutral word stimuli, to enable the independent measurement of attentional engagement and disengagement. Their results suggest that anxiety-linked attentional biases are associated with facilitated attentional engagement with negative information. The present study aimed to determine the replicability of these findings, with two important extensions. First, this study included positive word stimuli in the lexical decision task, to determine whether anxiety-linked attentional biases exist only towards negative information, or toward emotionally arousing information in general. Second, this study explored age-related differences in anxiety-linked attentional biases. Younger (N=32) and older adults (N=32) with both high and low trait anxiety completed the lexical decision task. The results suggest that heightened anxiety may be associated with a deficit in engaging with positive words. No age-related differences in anxiety-linked attentional biases were apparent.