Anxiety attenuates awareness of emotional faces during rapid serial visual presentation.

Research paper by Nicholas T NT Van Dam, Mitch M Earleywine, Jeanette J Altarriba

Indexed on: 24 Aug '11Published on: 24 Aug '11Published in: Emotion (Washington, D.C.)


Anxiety limits normative perception and impacts the interaction between key neurophysiological systems, possibly by decreasing recruitment of goal-oriented processes and increasing recruitment of stimulus-driven processes. Previous studies examining the impact of anxiety on emotion processing commonly lack a sample with levels of anxiety comparable to a clinical population. Many also fail to control for co-occurring symptoms like depression. The current study used rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) with two emotional targets, comparing healthy controls to a group of individuals with symptom levels comparable to anxiety disorder patients. The results showed a modulatory effect of anxiety; the high anxiety (HA) group showed an enhanced impairment in detecting the second of two emotional targets relative to the low anxiety (LA) control group. Though there were no group-specific effects on the attentional blink or repetition blindness, there was a significant interaction of group with first and second target valence. Notably, HA individuals showed deficits (where LA individuals showed benefits) when the same emotion was presented twice. Further, when the first target was neutral, second target detection was especially impaired in HA individuals. Correlational analyses confirmed perceptual limitations were related to anxiety, but not depression, positive affect, or negative affect. The current results, along with past findings, suggest that clinical anxiety leads to deficits in overall cognitive control, increased difficulty inhibiting attention to distractors, and impairments in rapid, intuitive emotion processing.