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Attention Biases in Anxiety Analytical Essay



In 1987 Oatley and Johnson-Laird (cited in Mogg & Bradley, 1998) supposed the evolutionary source to be the major consideration in the analysis of emotions.

For instance the primary role of the mechanism responsible for the fear emotion are to allow the identification of threat in the surrounding and to assist the organism react promptly an efficiently to the situation. The attention system in the brain facilitates the pathway for sensing and tracking environmental and interceptive signal which are related with the excitement of the organism.

Cognitive theory

Based on the current theories, biases in information encoding contribute considerably in the etiology and sustenance of emotional disturbances, including generalized anxiety disorders (GAD) and significant depressive disturbances (Beck, 1976; Eysenck, 1992; Matthews & MacLeod, 1994).

Particularly, dysfunctional schemata are responsible for information failure or loss characteristics of depression, while the schemata are receptive to danger or threat associated with anxiety, (Beck, 1976; Beck et al., 1979, 1986). The stimulation of the schemata produces bias encoding of congruent information.

Furthermore, he stipulated that susceptibility to emotional disturbances is an attribute of individual variation in the function of the schemata. For instance, an anxiety-prone person would present a hyperactive threat-schema which translates to elevated attention to external threat cues, an inclination to translate ambiguous stimuli to threat, and an amplified propensity to recall threatening incidents (Mogg & Bradley, 1998).

In 1981, Bower postulated a “semantic network theory of emotion,” wherein every emotion is denoted with a node in the corresponding network system in memory, limbic system. All the nodes are interconnected with other representation within the memory network, including the memory of happy or sad experiences.

Stimulation of a certain node elevates the stimulation of the connected nodes, resulting in encoding bias in favor of information that is harmonious with the emotion. This for instance translates to an increase in stimulation of a corresponding threat-relevant material in the network due to an increase in anxious emotions.

William et al. (1988) postulated a reviewed cognitive formulation of depression and anxiety, with the following prominent attributes;

  1. Anxiety is majorly characterized by bias for threat signal in preattentive pathway and in selective attention. Based on Graf and Mandler (1984) model of memory, anxiety is related with a bias in automatic stimulation.
  2. Persons who are prone to preattentive, habitual vigilance for threat excitation are more vulnerable to developing anxiety disturbances when subjected to stress.
  3. Trait anxiety determines the course of attentional and preattentive biases to threat motivation. High trait anxious individuals have a chronic inclination to focus attention towards threat, while low trait individuals have an inclination towards avoidant of threat stimuli. Such focus biases are augmented by escalated anxiety. In other words, HTA persons tend to be more vigilant, while LTA tend to be more avoidant of threat. Thus, attentional and preattentive biases are an interrelated function of trait and state anxiety (MacLeod & Mathews, 1988).
  4. Cognitive behavior therapy accomplishes its objective by focusing on amending the biases for threat. Thus the elimination of such biases must lessen anxious emotions and minimize susceptibility to later emotional imbalances.

In 1985 Gray argued that susceptibility to anxiety is related with personal differences in the function of the behavioral inhibitory system (BIS) of the septo-hippocampal region of the brain. The role of this area is to balance between the actual and the expected stimuli. The BIS functions in two modes.

First mode is the “checking” mode which is adapted when the real stimuli are harmonious with the expected stimuli, thereby subjecting behavior regulation function to other systems of the brain especially those concerned with enduring goals accomplishment. The other mode is engaged when the real and expected stimuli are discordant, or when the expected stimuli are not compulsive; ‘control’ mode.

Clearly, anxiety is major attribute of BIS activation which is associated with threats of disappointment or penalty, uncertainty and novelty. BIS excitation produces an inhibition of continuing behavior process, escalated arousal and intensive attention to vicinity stimuli. Therefore, the BIS in anxiety-prone people are highly sensitive which attributes them to hypervigilance to prospective threat stimuli in the background (Mogg & Bradley, 1998).

According to LeDoux (1995), anxiety is majorly associated with the brain system responsible for processing threat impulses. His model of anxiety speculates that the thalamic and amygdale neural pathways facilitate prompt major evaluation of threat stimuli, via quick assessment of stimulus path characteristics. Other structures, associated with the cortical and hippocampus networks influence such evaluation process by preparing feedback on the situational context and stimulus characteristics relevant to information bias.

The amygdala not only receive ‘quick-and-dirty’ thalamic signals that facilitate rapid reactions to restricted stimulus information, but also a comprehensive stimulus information through inputs from relatively longer and slower networks. Thus amygdala contributes majorly in assessment of threat by virtue of integrating information from various sources. Furthermore, when the amaygdala receives input from threat stimulus, it may influence an array of cognitive mechanisms, such as perception, explicit memory, and selective attention.

There are various perspectives psychologist may adopt in his or her approach of psychological issue. These different perspectives may be cultural, evolutionary, biological, cognitive, humanistic, behaviorist or psychoanalytic. Although majority of psychologist appreciate the value of each perspective, they concede that no perspective can solely offer a complete solution to a psychological problem.

Therefore, contemporary psychologists often adopt an eclectic, applying principles and methods from various perspectives that are relevant to the issue at hand (“Chapter 1: introducing psychology,” n.d).

Psychology students start by appreciating a single perspective and then more perspective as they progressively gain knowledge concerning each perspective. Often they come to appreciate the importance of each perspective in relevance to a specific situation as they continuously relate to psychological principles in their daily live challenges (Beck, Emery, & Greenberg,1985).

For instance they can recognize the significance of behaviorism in teaching their dog not to attack people or in rehabilitating themselves from smoking, as well as the significance of humanism in promoting a sense of accountability for their own lives (“Chapter 1: introducing psychology,” n.d).

Psychological research

A psychological research is driven majorly by two factors that include; the inability to integrate a new concept, and a drawback in the existing theories. A psychological research is step by step formal undertaking based on the following perspectives. First, conceptual skills are applied to develop a theory for the phenomenon of interest. Second, deductive logic is implemented in order to establish the hypothesis based on the theory. Third, researchers gather data methodically based on the research design.

Fourth, the inductive principle that underpins the experimental design allows exclusion of some prospective analysis of the data. Fifth, relevant statistical techniques are deployed in the tabulation and interpretation of data. Finally, deductive reasoning is applied to arrive to a theoretical conclusion. Eventually, the accomplishment of the research undertaking relies on a confluence of conceptual, methodological, meta-theoretical and statistical proficiency (Chow, 2002).

Psychologist may focus on specific aforementioned perspective(s) and neglect other concerns. Hence, psychologist employs a wide range of research methods. Perhaps, this may create the impression of essential methodological disparity within the psychology fraternity. Although this conflict is not necessarily objectionable, it is believed that concession of the philosophical and meta-theoretical issues will help shift the methodological contradictions within the fraternity into a better perspective (Koster et al. 2006).

For instance, prior to deciding if empirical research should be based theoretically on data or conceptually by theory, it is important to primarily establish if there is a plain observation in the research.

For instance, prior to deciding if empirical study should be based conceptually on theory or theoretically on data, it is important to establish primarily that it will involve plain observation. Simultaneously, acknowledging that observation made in the research process depends on theory, a question whether it is proper to dismiss the possibility of objectivity, especially when the professionals appeal to the mind, the incorporeal unit (Chow, 2002).

Psychological phenomena are explained based on the hypothetical mechanism which portrays the theoretical properties of interest. Thus, the following questions emerge from this conviction. First, do psychologists depict inconsistency when they employ psychometric or statistics tests? Second, how can a researcher employ quantitative data to substantiate qualitative theories? Through which means do psychologists replicate the data collected from a designed research to a real-life event?

What is the justification of empirical research in psychology? By what techniques can psychologists evaluate their research study? (Chow, 2002).

Bias to threat in High trait anxiety

High trait anxious individuals (HTA) have been revealed by numerous researches to express increased attention to threat compared to low trait anxious individuals (LTA). A research conducted by Koster and colleagues (2005), an investigation to elucidate “whether the intentional bias is related to facilitate intentional engagement to threat or difficulties disengaging attention from threat” (Koster et al., 2005),

The research involved HTA and LTA undergraduates on whom an altered exogenous prompt task was performed. The situation of the target was accurately or inaccurately signified by highly, mildly and neutral threatening images. The findings depicted that the at 100ms image presentation, HTA subjects engaged their attention more intensively and portrayed more impaired disengagement from highly intimidating images relative to the LTA counterparts.

Moreover, HTA subjects depicted a stronger trend towards attention evasion of threat at 2000 and 500ms presentation. Theses information supports differential characteristics of anxiety-based biases in attentive manifestation of threat during the initial phase relative to later phase of information development (Wilson, & MacLeod, 2003).

Attention bias in emotional disorder

Based on MacLeod, Mathews, and Tata (1986), recent research purports the relationship of anxiety with the processing prejudice that promotes the storage of volatile information. Nevertheless, the accessible data can be encoded via alternative explanations, such as bias accounts (Mogg, Mathews, & Weinman, 1987).

This study approaches the interpretive challenge from a novel paradigm that helps overcome the challenge. This is achieved by requiring participants to express a neutral, response by a button dial to a neutral signal signified by a dot probe. The situation of the probe was altered on a visual display unit (VDU) screen consistent with the words exhibited visually, which denoted either threat or neutral connection (MacLeod, Mathews, and Tata 1986).

This study relied on probe sensing latency information to establish the effects of the threat-centered stimuli on the spread of visual concentration. It was found that the clinically anxious subjects regularly focused attention on threat words, translating to decreased detection latency for probes associated with the corresponding location of the stimuli.

On the other hand, normal control participants, inclined to swing attention distal from such stimuli. The findings approved the existence of anxiety-based data encoding bias, suggesting that such cognitive mechanism may be partially responsible for the sustenance of such mood disorders (MacLeod, Mathews, and Tata 1986)..

Participants were required to undertake a full cycle of the Mill Hill Synonym Test, Beck Depression Inventory, and Spielberg State Anxiety Inventory (Section B of the Mill Hill Vocabulary Scale). They were position to view the VDU screen and instructed to read aloud the word which will present at the top or bottom of the screen. In certain cases a dot probe will persist in one of either site the two words showed, and the subjects were needed to promptly press a certain button (MacLeod, Mathews, and Tata 1986).

Analysis of anxiety

Proof of attention and pre-attentive biases associated with anxiety is analyzed from a cognitive-motivational approach. This analysis purports that susceptibility to anxiety emerges majorly from a lower a threshold for assessing threat, instead of a bias in the perspective of attention execution (Cohen, 1988).

Therefore, stimuli that are perceived innocuous are evaluated as those of higher subjective threat value by relative to the low trait anxious individuals. Further, it is speculated that every person inclines to stimuli that are deemed more threatening. However, this supposition is opposed with other latest cognitive replica of anxiety (Mogg & Bradley, 1998).

Selective attention to threat

“The dot probe task” (J of Abnorm Psychol 95, 1986) is commonly used approach for examining selective attention to threat. An induced reaction to probes that show at the corresponding site as the threat information in relation to the reactions to probes situated on the opposite site as the threat information is denoted as vigilance to threat assumption (Koster, Crombez, Verschuere, & Houwer, 2003).

Mackintosh, & Mathews (2003) argue that the outcomes in the dot probe approach are ambiguous proof of the vigilance to threat assumption. In addition the findings can also be translated as a problem to separate from threat.

The research involved a survey of 44 undergraduates who performed probe detection task employing pictures as stimuli. Considering the response times on neutral trials, there was no proof for induced detection of threatening stimuli. Conversely, it was discovered that the dot probe result were partially an attribute of separation consequence (Fox, Russo, & Dutton, 2002).

First subjects were taken through the entire State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI; Spielberger, Gorsuch, Lushene, Vagg, & Jacobs, 1983). The subjects were seated about 60 cm from computer screen to do the probe detection task which comprised of 12 rehearsals, two buffers, and 80 trials.

All trials commenced with an attachment cross which was portrayed 1000 ms at the center. Subsequently, duo pictures presented 4.4 cm on top of each other (Mogg, et al., 2000). for 500 ms. A small dot probe promptly (14 ms) presented in place of one of the images following the offset of the pictures (Koster et al., 2003).

The participant were required to show the site of the probe with a press of either of the two button promptly and precisely on AZERTY keyboard. This involved left index finger corresponding to the q key for a probe presentation at the top and right index finger corresponding to the 5 key for the probe presentation at the bottom.

The presentation of the dot probe often accurately corresponded with that of the previous image presentation at the alternate site on the screen, and the sequence of trials was randomly selected for all the subjects (Koster et al. 2003)..

Following the completion of the experiment, the subjects were requested to rate provocation and valence of the high-threatening (HT) and minimal-threatening (MT) images based on the self-evaluation manikin (Lang, 1980). This enabled the researchers to determine if the ratings of the subjects were consistent with the normative ratings. As a result of time limitation, just half the subjects were able to rate the five HT and five MT images. The remaining half of the subjects rated the 10 HT images (Koster et al., 2003).

Anxiety versus picture stimuli

Former researches employing search tasks has depicted an anxiety-based bias supporting attention to threatening phrases when they are displayed in synchrony with emotionally neutral phrases (Yiend & Matthews, 2001).

In the first experiment utilizing the same task, a corresponding consequence was accomplished with instead emotionally threatening pictures as stimuli. In this experiment two cohorts scoring high or low based on personal-report evaluation of anxiety, observed threatening or non-threatening couples of pictures (Lang, Bradley, & Cuthbert, 1999) displayed simultaneously on a monitor for 500ms.

Then either stimuli of interest presented in the site formerly occupied by one of the images, and the subjects were required to reply by dialing a corresponding key. Latencies to sensor such targets were applied to index the extent to which cohorts especially presented to mildly or highly threatening images (Yiend & Matthews, 2001).

The trials with error comprised 3.5% of the critical data which were then disqualified. Also 0.7% responses which had latencies above 1,100ms were omitted as outliers, using a box plot of the spread. A mixed-design analysis of variance (ANOVA) was performed on the averages of the residual data (Yiend & Matthews, 2001).

In a second experiment using pictures as site cues, high-trait anxious participants were slower compared to the low-trait anxious controls with regard to the response to stimuli requiring attention disorientation from threat (Derryberry, & Reed, 2002). They were found to be slower in overall highly threatening images (Yiend & Matthews, 2001).

In this experiment the trials were categorized into valid, invalid and no-cue. An arrow pointing up or down was used to signify a valid trial showed in the same site as the as the preceding image cue, on the right or left of middle fixation cross. The target arrow for the invalid trials showed on spatial location converse to the preceding image cue.

Whereas on no-cue trials no image was shown, as the computer screen remained blank for a similar duration before the presentation of target. Out of a total of 240 trials, 180 comprised the critical, of which were divided equally among the three categories. An additional 60 valid filler trials were excluded in the interpretation, so that the predictive credibility of the valid trials is sustained (Yiend & Matthews, 2001)..

A third experiment applying the same task but employing a prolonged cue exposure, revealed a connected disorientation problem across the two groups (Fox, et al., 2001)., while the more basic slowing associated with serious threat was similarly limited to the anxious population. Conclusively, attentional bias concern a particular problem in disorientation attention from the situation of any threat stimuli as well as a more basic interference effect associated with the degree of threat (Yiend & Matthews, 2001).

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