The Effect of Threat Source Proximity and Anxiety on the Attentional and Emotional Processing of Fear-Relevant Threat

Ms Shu-yang Chen (). The Effect of Threat Source Proximity and Anxiety on the Attentional and Emotional Processing of Fear-Relevant Threat Professional Doctorate, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Ms Shu-yang Chen
Thesis Title The Effect of Threat Source Proximity and Anxiety on the Attentional and Emotional Processing of Fear-Relevant Threat
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Thesis type Professional Doctorate
Supervisor Professor Ottmar Lipp
Associate Professor Nancy Pachana
Total pages 149
Total colour pages 4
Total black and white pages 145
Language eng
Abstract/Summary The project was designed to explore the effects of threat proximity and anxiety on the attentional and emotional processing of fear-relevant threat. Several well-established cognitive experimental tasks (e.g., affective priming and dot-probe paradigms) were employed across two studies to assess attentional processing to threat. Threat proximity was varied through the presence or absence of a dead spider. The purposes of the pilot study were to establish attentional bias to phylogenetically fear relevant stimuli, to explore the effect of anxiety on attentional bias to these stimuli, and to investigate the existence of automatic processing towards these stimuli. No priming effect was found in the affective priming paradigm, yet attentional biases to nonmasked fear relevant threats were observed in the dot-probe paradigm. The main goal of the main experiment was to explore the effect of threat source proximity on attentional bias to threat. Clear priming effects were observed, yet attentional biases were only observed for snakes and sad facial expressions when they were consciously processed. The priming effect of spiders was related to fear of spiders. Attentional biases, however, were not related to any of the fear measures. Being in different groups (i.e., spider present vs. spider absent) did not influence the priming effects, yet it exerted some influence on attentional processing in the dot-probe task. Specifically, attentional biases that were observed for snake stimuli when the probe appeared on the right in the spider absent group, were abolished in the spider present group. Unexpectedly, none of the psychophysiology measures were modulated by the valence of the stimuli. In general, no attentional bias was found for the masked stimuli. An interesting trend was observed where spider fearful individuals showed more bias towards snake stimuli, whereas snake fearful individuals showed more bias towards spider stimuli. Future research may choose to further explore the specificity of fear by employing more fear specific measures. In addition, a more controlled design with awareness checks for the masking procedure may be adopted in the future to examine automaticity. Future research may also examine the effects of and interaction between individual coping style and anxiety on attentional processing. Although the current research was not designed to investigate how experimental work in the area of cognitive processing can be used in clinical practice, the findings of the current study may be used to inform the development of therapeutic interventions in the near future.
Keyword attentional processing
threat source proximity
Emotional processing

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Created: Fri, 11 Nov 2011, 19:03:22 EST by Ms Shu-yang Chen on behalf of Faculty of Social & Behavioural Sciences