Anxiety modulates the effects of emotion and attention on early vision

Emma Ferneyhough, Min K. Kim, Elizabeth A. Phelps, Marisa Carrasco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)166-176
Number of pages11
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013


  • Anxiety
  • Attention
  • Contrast sensitivity
  • Emotion
  • Fear expression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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