At attended locations emotion and attention interact to benefit contrast sensitivity, a basic visual dimension. Whether there are associated costs at unattended locations is unknown. Furthermore, emotion and attention affect response time, and anxiety modulates these effects. We investigated how trait-anxiety influences the interaction of emotion and attention on contrast sensitivity. On each trial, non-predictive pre-cues (neutral or fearful faces) directed exogenous attention to four contrastvarying, tilted stimuli (Gabor patches). Attention was cued toward the target (valid), a distracter (invalid), or distributed over all locations. Observers discriminated target orientation, and completed self-report measures of anxiety. Effects of fearful expressions were mediated by trait anxiety. Only high-trait-anxious individuals showed decreased target contrast sensitivity after attention was diverted to a distracter by a fearful cue, and anxiety score correlated with degree of impairment across participants. This indicates that increasing anxiety exacerbates threat-related attentional costs to visual perception, hampering processing at non-threat-related locations.
- Contrast sensitivity
- Fear expression
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)