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Anxiety, conscious awareness and change

Article in Consciousness and Cognition · March 2012
DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2011.09.009 · Source: PubMed


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Sally M Gregory Anthony Lambert
University of Auckland University of Auckland


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Box 705. Here we made use of a change detection paradigm to study the efficiency of attentional scanning in anxious and non-anxious individuals in different task contexts. Pergamin. All rights reserved. participants was influenced by the emotional valence and Attention exposure duration of distractor scenes. Keywords: change detection latencies were slower overall for anxious participants. 2005) to our knowledge it has not been recruited in previous research to investigate attentional scanning in anxiety. New Zealand a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t Article history: Attentional scanning was studied in anxious and non-anxious (S. 2000). & Williams.m. Findings from several paradigms converge on the conclusion that anxious individuals show an attentional bias for emotionally negative. When negative distractor scenes were presented at Anxiety Emotion subliminal exposure durations. Garety. 2007. Consciousness and Cog- nition (2011). In the current study we addressed this issue by making use of a widely used technique for studying visual scanning. ⇑ Corresponding author. & Calvo. anxious participants detected changes more rapidly than IAPS when supraliminal negative scenes or subliminal positive scenes were presented. Department of Psychology. We pro- pose that for anxious participants. doi:10.1016/j. Lamy. potentially threatening information. & Lambert. and even whether such biases have any consequences at all for visual scan- ning in anxiety (Freeman.009 . E-mail address: sally.concog.O. 2009. More specifically. Australia. 2007).1016/j. one issue that remains unresolved is how these well documented biases might influence the way in which anxious individuals scan the visual environment (Cisler et al.gregory@gmail. attentional engagement. but task irrelevant information was available or unavailable to conscious awareness. and are more distracted when such information is present in the visual environment (Bar-Haim. we investigated the efficiency with which anxious and non-anxious participants detected changes in pairs of scenes when these were accompanied by task irrelevant.09. S.09. Although this paradigm has been applied pro- ductively to a variety of theoretical issues in studies of attention and perception (Rensink. doi:10. Change detection Change detection in anxious. subliminal presentation of emotionally negative distrac- tor scenes stimulated attention into a dynamic state in the absence of attentional engagement. By using a pattern masking procedure together with a variable exposure time we were able to manipulate whether this emo- tionally valenced.see front matter Ó 2011 Elsevier Inc. Anthony Lambert Research Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience. However. Bacon. Bakermans-Kran- enburg. using a modi- Received 21 June 2010 fied change detection paradigm. Anxiety.elsevier.2011. In agreement with attentional control theory. Ó 2011 Elsevier Inc. and slower change detection. Presentation of the same scenes at longer exposure times was accompanied by conscious awareness. emotionally valenced information. Participants detected changes in pairs of emotional scenes Available online xxxx separated by two task irrelevant slides.. M.. Derakshan. Auckland.2011. Anxiety.concog. conscious awareness and change detection Sally M. Townsville. & van Ijzendoorn.1. Simons & Rensink. Santos. Address: P. Eysenck. 1053-8100/$ . Outline It is well documented that the attentional behaviour of highly anxious individuals is unusually sensitive to emotionally negative or threatening information in the visual environment.M. All rights reserved. conscious awareness and change detection. but not non-anxious. 1. Gregory). & Phillips. A. Introduction 1. QLD 4810.009 Please cite this article in press as: Gregory. 2002. the change detection paradigm. Consciousness and Cognition xxx (2011) xxx–xxx Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect Consciousness and Cognition journal homepage: www. University of Auckland. which contained an emotionally valenced scene (the ‘distractor scene’) and a visual mask. Gregory ⇑. 2009).

As this figure shows. O’Regan.. doi:10. In contrast. M. the pattern of results reported by Byrne and Eysenck (1995) has been replicated in more recent research. However. and impairs goal driven search. shape. performance would be worse in the presence of threat-related distractors as stimulus driven attentional capture distracts attention away from the target. A well known finding from studies using this task is that observers often fail to detect surprisingly large differ- ences between the two scenes and display change blindness (Simons & Ambinder. The two versions of the scene. and conclude that. Thus. The design of our modified task is illus- trated in Fig.g. According to this view. because the targets of goal-directed and stimulus driven attention coincide. threat-related information captures attention. 2002). Consciousness and Cog- nition (2011). which often comprises a uniform grey or white screen. Lambert / Consciousness and Cognition xxx (2011) xxx–xxx 1. and that this bias is manifest as improved perfor- mance when an angry face is the target. 2005). while non-anxious individuals display no such bias. In the flicker task participants are presented with two versions of a visual scene. & Clark. 2006). O’Regan. it provides an assessment of attentional scanning. and Carrasco (2006) and Becker (2009) suggests that the presence of emotionally threatening information in the environment can improve visual pro- cessing and facilitate visual search. S. change detection becomes trivially easy.. The current study sought to remedy this by using a well documented form of the change detection paradigm. has also been used in studies of attention and anxiety. A. In the study reported here we adapted the flicker task (Rensink. the question of how these effects might be moderated. However. rather than interposing a single blank screen in between the original and changed Please cite this article in press as: Gregory. until observers detect a difference be- tween them.1016/j. In addition. the change detection task has been widely used in studies of perception and attention (Rensink. anxious individuals detected the target more slowly than the control group. When participants were searching for an angry face among distractors bearing a neutral expression. 2005). the visual search task is not the only technique available to experimental psychologists for studying attentional behaviour. size.M. conscious awareness and change detection.concog. leading to rapid detection of the change. observers discriminated the orientation of sinu- soidal gratings which were preceded by a briefly presented (75 ms) face bearing either a neutral or a fearful expression. despite some inconsistencies. (2007) suggest that both these effects derive from increased reliance on stimulus driven. dot-probe task. such as angry faces.. Simons & Rensink. (2007) reported a meta-analysis of 172 studies which examined attentional behaviour in anxious and non-anxious individuals. anxious individuals detected the target more rapidly than the non-anxious control group. In addition to the three paradigms reviewed by Bar-Haim et al. and this captures attention in a bottom-up fashion. Contrast sensitivity was improved when gratings were preceded by fearful faces. Phelps et al. the dot probe task. anxiety levels were not assessed in either study (Becker. (2007) a fourth technique. (2009) review the outcome of visual search studies of attention in anxiety. where the target – a change – remains undefined with respect to any specific visual (e. when compared with the neutral face con- dition. when the scenes alternate with blank or ‘mud-splash’ slides. This would thus lead to improved search for threat-related targets. In contrast to the findings of Byrne and Eysenck (1995). at the expense of goal driven top-down attentional control (Corbetta & Shulman. 2002). facial expression) attribute. 2009. If the intervening blank slides are removed from the presentation cycle. recent research reported by Phelps. Cisler et al. Eysenck et al. the flicker task (Rensink.g. but has yet to be applied to the question of how attentional behaviour is affected by anxiety. indicated that subliminal presentation of emotional stimuli was associated with attentional effects that were almost twice as large as those elicited by supraliminal exposures. In a sense change detection represents a special case of the visual search task. In contrast. or verify its absence is measured. As noted earlier. Thus attentional scanning in anxiety can be facilitated when searching for a threat-related target. bottom-up attentional control. these authors noted that meta-analysis of findings from a para- digm that assesses spatial attention. In this situation. Search times were reliably faster when preceded by a fearful face. Evidence from all three paradigms sup- ports the conclusion that in anxious individuals. but impaired performance when angry faces serve as distractors. to investigate how attentional scanning might be affected by the presence of emotionally valenced information. in cyclical fashion. A. when par- ticipants searched for a happy face among distractors bearing angry expressions. O’Regan. Search arrays were preceded by a face bearing a fearful. A central finding from research using this and similar techniques has been that there is a tight link between change detection and attention: observers need to pay attention to the appropriate location for changes to be detected (Rensink. In the study of Becker (2009) observers performed a visual search task. These findings were interpreted as indicating that anxious individuals display an atten- tional bias towards potentially threatening stimuli.2. & Lambert. or perhaps even reversed as a function of participant anxiety remains unknown. Attentional scanning Bar-Haim et al. neutral or happy expression.2 S. & Clark.2011. attention is not drawn selectively to the location of the change. Anxiety. 1997. & Clark. In a study by Byrne and Eysenck (1995) participants searched through arrays of twelve photographed faces. In a typical visual search task participants attempt to detect a target item in a display containing several objects. a difference between the two scenes produces a local visual transient when they alternate. 1997). Although this evidence suggests that the presence of emotionally threatening information can facilitate perceptual processing and the efficiency of visual search. the visual search task. In the former study (Phelps et al. together with intervening slides are presented.009 . which are shown successively. They noted that three experimental paradigms (emotional Stroop task. 1997) to study attentional scanning in anxiety. Ling. visual attention shows a bias towards threat-related information. to a stronger degree in anxious compared to non-anxious individuals. but the same bias increases sus- ceptibility to distraction when searching for a non-threat target among threatening distractors. in which both the target (a house) and dis- tractor objects were emotionally non-threatening. in a bottom-up fashion.09. 2006). and emo- tional spatial cueing task) account for the bulk of published evidence on this issue. Evidence from visual search is directly relevant to the issue addressed in the current study. because like the change detection task. separated by an interposed slide. colour) or categorical (e. Gregory. 1 below. massive transients occur across the entire scene so. and the time taken to either detect the target.

attentional control theory predicts that overall change detection latencies will be slower in anxious compared to non-anxious participants. S. Gregory. By using an SOA of 33 ms in the short duration – subliminal condition we aimed to ensure that the content of the vast majority of distractor scenes was unavailable to con- scious awareness. O’Regan. The aim of this was to pres- ent the distractor scenes at durations whereby the content of the scene was either available to conscious awareness (long duration). and the mask was presented for 197 ms. scene. enabling them to avoid the distracting effects of task irrelevant stimuli. 2009. in which the allocation of attention tends to be dominated by bottom-up. In their wide ranging review of this literature. A. traffic accident. Conversely. the emotional valence of the scenes that changed were also either negative or po- sitive (see Appendix B for full list).g. Lambert / Consciousness and Cognition xxx (2011) xxx–xxx 3 Fig. or emotionally positive (e. Anxiety. see Appendix A for a full list).009 .1016/j. The changes that we implemented in the change scenes generally involved alterations that were low in per- ceptual salience. & Lambert.. participants reported verbally their perception of the distractor scene on each trial (see Section 2. 2006. 2007) attention in anxiety is charac- terised by an altered balance of attentional control. 1. attractive natural scene. This is because during change detection participants must perform a goal-directed search of a visually complex scene. In such situations anxious individuals will show greater distractibility than non-anxious controls. war scene. Please cite this article in press as: Gregory. romantic scene. For this to be effective. stimulus driven attention. or unavailable to conscious awareness (short duration).2011. In the short duration – subliminal condition. conscious awareness and change detection. Eysenck et al. The first of these contained an additional scene that we refer to below as the ‘distractor scene’. Previous work has shown that when the delay between onset of a visual stimulus and onset of a pattern mask (stimulus onset asynchrony – SOA) is very brief. Consciousness and Cog- nition (2011). at the expense of top-down.M. but needs to be directed to a variety of less salient features and relatively marginal scene objects. S.3. while in the long duration – supraliminal condition the distractor scene was presented for 150 ms and the mask was presented for 80 ms. A. The second screen contained a pattern mask. According to attentional control theory. smiling baby.g. goal directed attention. 38). mutilation). A central prediction of this theory is that in anxiety the ability to control goal-directed movements of attention will be compromised in situations where there is scope for attention to be captured by task irrelevant stimuli – especially when the task irrelevant stimuli are threat-related or per- ceptually salient. and involved objects or features that were of marginal rather than central interest in the scene (Rensink.concog.5). in the long duration condition (SOA 150 ms) the content of distractor scenes was available to conscious awareness. & Clark. Thus. anxious participants will perform this task less efficiently. and contour’’ (Breitmeyer & Ogmen. access of the first stimulus to conscious awareness is limited or absent. Participants were presented with distractor scenes that were either emotionally negative in nature (e. Attentional control theory According to attentional control theory (Derakshan & Eysenck. Atten- tional control theory contends that the latter group maintain top-down control over attention more effectively. doi:10. Thus. We refer to these scenes below as the ‘change scenes’. As a check on the effectiveness of this manipulation. 1997). the distractor screen was presented for 33 ms. directing attention in a systematic way to mul- tiple candidate locations. The sequence of display events on a typical trial of the experiment. An additional aim of the study was to discover whether effects of distrac- tor scene valence and exposure time on change detection latency would be modulated by the emotional context in which the distractor scenes were presented. colour. p.09. M. Breitmeyer and Ogmen (2006) conclude that an SOA of between 30 ms and 100 ms ‘‘produces a total or nearly total suppression of the perception of the target’s contrast. 1.. attention must not be monopolised by perceptually salient features or by emotionally salient objects in the scene. two further screens were interposed.

All scenes (both practice and experimental) were edited using the programs Corel Draw and Photoshop CS2. To avoid confounding effects of emotional valence with effects of scene content. Vagg. 1983). A scale of one to nine was used. The masking stimulus was also from the IAPS (image 7182. with one indicating a very negative picture. female workers. Method 2. The experiment proper was preceded by four practice trials to familiarise participants with the procedure. Although recent work has suggested that anxiety may be a heterogeneous disorder. Moreover. median = 37).009 . Ethics This study was approved by the University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics Committee.15. a broadly based characterisation of anxiety was appropriate. Gregory. respectively. or miscellaneous/objects. emotionally negative information can facil- itate perceptual processing. Data from one participant was lost due to a computer error. Although Becker’s (2009) finding with visual search might be expected to generalise to the change detection task employed here. M. leads to the further pre- diction that the disruptive effect of interposed distractor scenes should be stronger at brief – subliminal exposure times.. Because this study is. 2. Watson. Lushene. respectively. described above.2. median = 53). in terms of STAI-T scores. Please cite this article in press as: Gregory. A. showed that task irrelevant.concog. the degree of impairment in goal-directed attentional scanning experienced by anxious participants should be especially marked in emo- tionally negative visual contexts. the meta-analysis of Bar-Haim et al. l = 36. 2. 2. The high anxiety group comprised 13 participants who fulfilled this criterion (STAI-T scores ranged from 48 to 66. generalised anxiety. female students. four scenes featuring children. 2005). social anxiety. In both cases attentional control theory predicts that for anxious individuals. Lambert / Consciousness and Cognition xxx (2011) xxx–xxx because for these participants goal-directed scanning of attention will tend to be ‘hijacked’ by bottom-up attentional cap- ture.0 and was delivered to participants on a Dell PC. and nine representing a very positive picture. Consciousness and Cog- nition (2011). with 1280  1024 pixel resolution. The remaining 26 participants were classified as low anxiety (STAI-T scores ranged from 22 to 44. as noted earlier.09. conscious awareness and change detection. (2001) provide mean valence ratings of each image as judged by introductory psychology students. children. doi:10. comprising distinct sub-types (e.3.M. which have been rated for emotional valence (Lang. Display and stimuli The scenes presented to participants were adapted from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS) which com- prises 814 photographic scenes. Furthermore. l = 55. High anxiety participants were those with STAI-T (Form Y-2) scores equal to or greater than 48.4. Gorsuch. leaving 39 participants.2011. Lang et al. Bradley. four with miscellaneous content or objects. (2007). to our knowledge. which prevent access of the scene to conscious awareness. This score was chosen as a cut-off. the recent work of Phelps et al. Valence rat- ings for the positive change and distractor scenes ranged between 7 and 9. The distractor scenes in both the pos- itively valenced set and the negatively valenced set comprised six scenes containing adults. it is currently unknown whether this effect is moderated. & Lambert. 2. and were different from the change scenes (see Appendix A for a full list of the distractor scenes and Appendix B for a full list of the change scenes. see Fig. Screen size was 14  11 in. Thus.. the distractor scenes were sorted into four categories: adults. together with their valence ratings). animals. change detection in anxiety should be especially slow when participants scan scenes that are emotionally negative and when an emotionally negative distractor scene is interposed between the two versions of the scene. male students. directing attention to visually salient features or objects with emotional significance. Participants Forty participants were recruited from a student population at the University of Auckland and a working adult popula- tion. Two positive change scenes were paired with a positive and a negative distractor scene at the brief (33 ms) and long (150 ms) presentation durations. and male workers). features of the emotionally negative scenes will be more likely to capture attention and disrupt goal-directed scanning. while those for the negative change and distractor scenes ranged from 1 to 3 (see Appendices A and B). or perhaps even reversed as a function of participant anxiety. & Cuthbert. in this investigation anxiety was characterised broadly. 1). of these groups (Spielberger. This work. S. as across the four demo- graphics represented by our sample (i.e.4 S. the first to investigate possible ef- fects of anxiety in a change detection paradigm. it is approxi- mately one standard deviation above the highest mean score.85. Apparatus The experiment was programmed using E-Prime Version 2. panic disorder. and two scenes with animals. Anxiety. The distractor scenes that were interposed between the two versions of the change scene were also from the IAPS. indicating increased attentional effects with subliminally presented emotional stimuli.1016/j. & Jacobs. (2006) and Becker (2009) suggests that a very different pattern of re- sults could be observed. A.1. On the other hand. Two negative change scenes were also paired with a positive and negative distractor scene at the long and brief presentation durations. 2001).g.

2 Distractor scene available to consciousness when predicted to be unavailable 3. again at a duration of 33 ms in one version. Distribution of the four experimental versions was balanced across the high and low anxiety groups. To avoid any confounding effects that may have arisen due to an interaction between visual features of the change scene and visual features of the distractor scene. If they were able to give a description that included the main features and matched the ‘gist’ of the scene. Incorrect change detection involved trials where a change was identified. & Lambert. Each version of the change scene was presented for 500 ms. leading to a total of 32 trials for each participant. they were informed that if they saw an image that was not the changing scene or the mask (i. participants were allowed to clarify any uncertainty they had with regard to the task.09. 1 continued to be presented. Results 3. distractor scene valence (positive or negative) and distractor scene duration (short-subliminal or long-supralim- inal). participants’ anxiety levels were assessed with the STAI-T (Spielberger et al. then it was considered that they had consciously perceived the flicker scene. If the participant had not detected a change after 3 min had elapsed. were removed. Lambert / Consciousness and Cognition xxx (2011) xxx–xxx 5 2.6. the experimenter instructed the participant to press the space bar to stop the trial. 3.2 Accidental press of spacebar 0. and the sequence of Fig. Procedure Before commencing the experiment. anxiety group (high or low. a backward pattern masking procedure was used to ensure that that the contents of the distractor scene were either available or unavailable to conscious awareness. 2. Distractor scenes were assigned to change scenes randomly. but was incorrect. trials where participants were able to report the content of distractor scene in the short duration – subliminal condition. they should report this and describe what was depicted in the scene. or emergent effects arising from interactions between these features and features of the change scenes. 1). 1983). M. or were unable to provide sufficient detail of the flicker scene then they were assumed not to have consciously perceived it.1. the distractor scene was presented for 150 ms and the pat- tern mask for 80 ms. This same distractor scene was also paired with a particular negative change scene. and then provide a verbal description of the change. On each trial of the experiment. The order in which the trials were presented was randomised for each participant.2011.6 Incorrect change detection 0. and 150 ms in another.1). Please cite this article in press as: Gregory. four versions of the experiment were constructed.M. see Section 2. Gregory. If they could not report the scene at all. Design Three within participant factors with two levels each were manipulated. In addition. Consciousness and Cog- nition (2011). the sequence of slides illustrated in Fig. Removed trials Trials where participants failed to make a correct change detection. The percentage of trials removed for each of these reasons is shown in Table 1. These are referred to below as change blindness (CB) trials. There was one between participants’ factor. and trials where participants were unable to report the content of the distractor scene in the long duration – supraliminal condition were removed. These were: change scene valence (positive or negative).2 Distractor scene unavailable to consciousness when predicted to be consciously available 1..1016/j. conscious awareness and change detection. Finally. Each condition was repeated four times. A.9 Total 12. Anxiety. S.009 . in cyclic fashion. the flicker scene). In the long duration – supraliminal condition. incorrect change detection.e. After these instructions were given. Each distractor scene was assigned to a particular positive change scene. they should press the spacebar. It was described to them as a virtual ‘‘spot the differ- ence’’ task.5. Thus there were eight experimental conditions. 1 was described. Table 1 Percentage of trials removed due to change blindness.. As indicated earlier. Reason for trial removal Percentage of trials removed Change blindness 6. S. In the short duration – subliminal condition. the distractor scene was presented for 33 ms and the pattern mask for 197 ms. They were instructed that as soon as they had detected the change. in a single block. To familiarise them with the computer-based task of the experiment. response errors and masking failure. and/or distractor scene duration. The combined duration of the distractor scene and mask was always 230 ms (see Fig. until participants responded by pressing the space-bar. doi:10. at a duration of 33 ms in one version and a duration of 150 ms in another.1 Note: Change blindness referred to instances where a change was not detected at any point of the trial. This enabled us to minimise and counter-balance the influence of effects attributable to low level visual fea- tures of the distractor scenes. A. and it was noted that the change had not been detected. in the long and short duration conditions respectively. leading to four versions in total. participants first performed the four practice trials (see above) before beginning the main experimental session. Participants were then given verbal instructions concerning the task.concog.

Finally.27s. t(30) = 1. Attentional control theory predicted that the impairment of goal directed scanning shown by anxious participants would be especially apparent when participants scanned emotionally negative scenes.2 The item analysis revealed no significant difference between log transformed change detection latencies for positive and negative change scenes. F(1. F < 1. p = .1 In order to explore the effect of change scene valence further. 37) = 4. A. When highly anxious participants were presented with negative distractor scenes. interpretation of overall differences in change detection latency between the two sets of change scenes is problematic.27. F(1. 12) = 6. and anxiety group (high vs.05) change scenes. averaged across participants. Anxiety. For the low anxiety group there was no effect of distractor valence.09.77s. This interaction is illustrated in Fig. F(1. n. changes were detected more quickly in the short duration (subliminal) condition. distractor scene valence interacted with distractor duration. F(1. compared to long – supraliminal durations. 37) = 10. Please cite this article in press as: Gregory.. Furthermore. 3.24s) and non-anxious participants (20. A. F(1. and their influence on change detection latency. p = . 2000). Lambert / Consciousness and Cognition xxx (2011) xxx–xxx Fig.98. F(1.13. However. in the presence of emotionally negative and positive distractor scenes. no effect of distractor duration. negative) repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted with the latter as within-subject factors. low) as a between-subjects factor. This analysis revealed a significant main effect of anxiety group.36. SE = 1.05). because. conscious awareness and change detection. rather than positive. 2 illustrates.81.s. n.80. (M = 20. 25) = 1. presented at subliminal and supraliminal exposure times. distractor duration and anxiety group. Numbers in parentheses represent the percentage of trials where participants experienced change blindness. Mean change detection times of high and low anxiety participants. It proved impossible to balance the visual salience of the changes in the positive and negative change scenes – achieving this would involve not only balancing the visual salience of the two sets of scenes (Itti & Koch. S.concog. 25) = 1. Because the data were positively skewed.06).19. due to uncertainty as to whether the effect arises from the emotional valence of the scenes per se. SE = 1.1016/j.82. SE = 1. change detection latencies were log transformed. & Lambert. p = .033. A three-way interaction was observed between distractor scene valence. as noted earlier (see Section 2) for different participants the distractor scenes were rotated across the four duration and scene valence conditions. doi:10.s. F(1. 25) = 1. because for different participants the distractor scenes were rotated across the two sets of change scenes. 2.2. Consciousness and Cog- nition (2011). compared to positive (M = 24. Change detection latencies were generally faster for negative (M = 19.s. negative)  2 (distractor duration: short – subliminal vs. SE = 1. long – supralimi- nal)  2 (change scene valence: positive vs.025 (see Fig. participants in the high anxiety group detected changes more slowly (M = 23. 12) = 7. p = . F(1. For the high anxiety group.009 .. Primary analysis A 2 (distractor scene valence: positive vs. n.23s.69s) were equiv- alent. change detection latencies of the anxious participants (19.04) than participants in the low anxiety group. effects of subliminal distractor valence varied critically as a function of anxiety. 2. for the negative and positive scenes was undertaken. the main effect of change scene valence was significant. 2).025 (see Fig.. when emotionally negative distractor scenes were presented in the short duration (subliminal) condition.66s. n. p < .046. and no interaction between these factors. when the distractor scene was negative. the interaction between change scene valence and anxiety group failed to approach significance. but also balancing the salience of the visual difference between each pair of scenes. and failed to detect the change.6 S.M.003.31. Contrary to this prediction. The aim of this was to establish whether the difference in change detection observed using our sample of emotional pictures. 37) = 5. 2000). for highly anxious participants. p < . 2). M. or from item effects driven by the salience of visual differences between scene pairs in each picture set. and the magnitude of this effect did not vary as a function of anxiety. Furthermore.81.s. Overall.021. 2 Note that a similar analysis could not be performed with respect to the distractor scenes. Gregory. they detected changes more quickly when these scenes were presented at short – subliminal durations.2011. 12) = 5. and it was explored further by analysing change detection latencies separately for the high and low anxiety groups. t < 1. the most parsimonious interpretation of the main effect of change scene valence observed in 1 It should be noted that the effects of distractor scene valence on change detection latency observed in the experiment did not suffer from this interpretational problem. However. could be generalised to a wider population of emotional scenes. F(1. n. as Fig. an item analysis comparing change detection latencies. and subsequently an inverse log was applied to values associated with significant results (see Aginsky & Tarr. Because the effect failed to generalise across items.s. and across the two duration conditions.

is sensitive to the emotional valence of a stimulus. Bowles. and anxious participants detected changes more rapidly when subliminal distractor scenes were negative rather than positive. the finding that negatively valenced distractor scenes can facilitate change detection is broadly consistent with the recent finding of Becker (2009) that negatively valenced distractor information can facilitate visual search times.4%) in anxiety did not differ. However.. S. None of the interaction terms approached significance: all F < 1.2.1016/j. 2006). this effect will not be discussed further.. change detection latency was reduced. The current findings indicate that further study of how perceptual processing and attentional scanning are moderated by awareness of emotionally negative distractor information and by anxiety is likely to be a fruitful avenue of investigation. First interpretation of results Our first interpretation involves reconceptualising the attentional processing components recruited by our modified flicker task. & Dutton.. anxious par- ticipants detected changes more rapidly when negative distractor scenes were presented subliminally rather than supraliminally. Attentional control theory finding Two main findings emerged from the experiment.. When anxious participants scanned scenes that were accompanied by neg- atively valenced distractor scenes at subliminal exposure times. Consciousness and Cog- nition (2011). and was not predicted by attentional control theory.concog.6% of all trials). 4.7%) and low (6. F < 1. A. 3. and is also consistent with neuroimaging work showing that activity in the amygdala. change detection latencies were reduced in the presence of negative distractor scenes. Though not predicted. following the recommendation of Winer (1971): pffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi X0 ¼ X þ :5 No significant main effects or interactions were observed in this analysis. 2001). Two alternative interpretations of this finding are proposed. That is.4s. (2009) conclude that both components of attention play a role. 4. doi:10. that in anxiety attentional scanning will be impaired by inadvertent capture of attention when negative distractor scenes are pre- sented. 2 is inconsistent with the prediction derived from attentional control theory. 4. 2007.2. M. distractor scene valence and distractor duration on the number of (CB) trials in each condition. 2008) or a difficulty in disengaging attention from negatively valenced information (Fox. In their recent review. this pattern is broadly consistent with the conclusion of Bar-Haim et al. That is. Instead. S.3%) distractor durations did not differ. Furthermore. Accordingly. Gregory. Similarly. a structure associ- ated with attention which has rich inter-connections with visual cortex (see Phelps et al. An alternative conceptualisation of our task recognises that when distractor scenes Please cite this article in press as: Gregory. F < 1. Holmes. A question which has been the subject of considerable debate is whether this bias arises from an increased tendency to move attention towards negatively valenced visual information (Mogg.1. 1998). the data were transformed. a large body of evidence supports the proposal that anxious individuals show an atten- tional bias for emotionally negative or threatening information (Bar-Haim et al. was intriguing.9%) and short (6. Thus the rate of change blindness shown by par- ticipant classified as high (6. and rates of change blindness on trials with long (6. This is con- sistent with the proposal of Eysenck et al. as predicted by attentional control theory. Firstly. 2009).3. depicted in Fig. Russo.09. The distractor faces included in the Becker (2009) study were presented briefly (75 ms). Because the overall rate of change blindness (failure to detect a change within 3 min) was relatively low (6. Main finding not predicted by attentional control theory The second main finding was that anxious. 2.5%) distractor scenes did not differ. As discussed in the introduction. Garner. Cisler et al. participants who were high in trait anxiety performed the change detection task more slowly – on average. by a margin of 3. and as noted ear- lier participant anxiety was not assessed. the magnitude of this impairment did not vary as a function of change scene valence. rates of change blindness on trials with positive (6. but participants’ awareness of these stimuli was not assessed. Anxiety. when these were presented at brief-subliminal exposure times. Contrary to prediction. independently of conscious perceptual awareness (Whalen et al. but not non-anxious participants were influenced by the emotional valence and exposure duration of the distractor scenes. Cisler et al. The empirical pattern depicted in Fig. features of the emotional distractor scene should have impaired goal-directed scanning by drawing attention to inappropriate spatial locations. & Lambert. in the current study this finding was limited to the condition in which negatively valenced information was pre- sented subliminally. (2007) that subliminal presentation of emotionally threatening information is associated with stronger effects on attention and performance.2011. (2007) that anxious participants will be impaired on tasks that require goal-direc- ted scanning in visually complex environments. Lambert / Consciousness and Cognition xxx (2011) xxx–xxx 7 the participant analysis is that it may have been driven by a sub-set of the negative and/or positive change scenes.. Rates of change blindness A final analysis examined effects of anxiety group. The precise nature of this effect. conscious awareness and change detection.6%) and negative (6. Discussion 4.1.009 .M. and was specific to participants who were high in anxiety. A. & Bradley. F < 1.

With subliminal exposure times..8 S.3.. Second interpretation of results A second possible interpretation of the pattern shown in Fig.. S. so that presentation of emotionally negative distractor scenes provokes an in- crease in alertness. Exposure time in this case was long enough for attention to become engaged with ob- jects in the distractor scene. 2009). Alternatively. 2 is that the attentional sensitivity of anxious individuals is manifest not only in the operation of spatially selective attention. Please cite this article in press as: Gregory. 2003). which also covaries with anxiety. 4. which arises from a problem in disengaging attention from features of the negative distractor scenes. Ward. the first interpre- tation. features or objects in the negative distractor scene may stimulate attentional orienting in anxious participants. On the other hand. However. Consistent with this interpretation. while subliminal presentation of negative distractor scenes reduced change detection latency. attention fails to become engaged with that feature or object. 2010.concog. but not when they are presented supraliminally. According to this interpretation. neu- rotic individuals may adopt a more conservative response criterion in the change detection task. In this condition the distractor scenes were presented for just 33 ms prior to onset of the mask. due to the extreme brevity of the display. An obvious prob- lem for this interpretation is to explain why a general alerting effect of negative distractor scenes should be manifest when these are presented subliminally. by activating an attentional scanning process (Becker. 2002) the attention system of the human brain comprises two rather dis- tinct sub-systems. Thirty-three milliseconds would certainly be too brief for participants to programme and execute a saccadic eye movement: these processes are generally thought to require well over 100 ms to exe- cute (Findlay & Gilchrist. M. Luteijn & Bouman. Fig.4 For example. Earlier work (Bar-Haim et al. Cisler et al. 2006). Consciousness and Cog- nition (2011). one might propose that the difference in performance between the high and low anxiety groups might be driven by neuroticism. difficulty in disengaging attention should be accompanied by an increase in fixation duration. Clearly. Viewed from this perspective. & Shapiro. 2 appeals to the distinction between two aspects of attention: general alertness and spatially specific selective attention. but also manifest in the response of general alerting mechanisms to emotional stimuli (Posner & Petersen. A second possible interpretation of the pattern displayed in Fig. the difference in performance between the high and low anxiety groups cannot be characterised simply in terms of general slowing. rather than by anxiety. Sommer.. Phelps et al. Raz. 2001) suggests that difficulty in disengaging attention should be apparent in this condition. 2 shows. According to the influential model of Posner and Petersen (1990. & Posner. but rendered ‘free-floating’ by its abrupt disappearance which precludes attentional engagement and conscious awareness of the features or objects which provoked the attention movement. 1995. 1988). eye monitoring data (see below) could provide a way of operationalising attentional engagement and disengagement. Egeth & Yantis. 1990). 2001). 1994. in anxious individuals the general alerting component of attention is also sensitive to the presence of emotionally negative information. However. doi:10. 4 We appreciate this alternative interpretation of the data provided by a second anonymous reviewer.3 Although disentangling these opposing influences on change detection perfor- mance will be challenging. for performance impairment arising from delayed disengagement to be observed. leading to conscious awareness.M. an overall difference between the two experimental groups with respect to either information processing speed or 3 We are grateful to an anonymous reviewer for identifying this possibility. Fox et al.. performance is unlikely to be affected by the problem of disengaging attention from features of the task irrelevant scene. one might propose that general slowing. related to depression. Byrne & Eysenck.. increasing the efficiency of attentional scanning and reducing change detection latency. change detection latency was slowest of all when these same scenes were presented supraliminally.09. especially on tasks that require attentional set shifting and executive control (Austin. as Fig. A. McCandliss. a general alerting effect could be masked by a countervailing effect. & Goodwin. Lambert / Consciousness and Cognition xxx (2011) xxx–xxx are presented with brief – subliminal exposure times. which are concerned with general alertness and with spatially selective orienting respectively. and under these conditions it seems unlikely that there would be sufficient time for attention to become fully engaged with features of the distractor scene. The net effect of both of these influences would be to produce a general slowing of change detection time. 2009. see also Fan. 1997). viewing more cycles of stimuli.2. outlined above appears preferable at this stage. attention must first be engaged with an object or location. 2 shows that.2011. For example.009 .. Mitchell. resulting in the well documented biases that have already been dis- cussed. Anxiety. Gregory. Cisler et al. presentation of negative distractor scenes in the long duration (supraliminal) condition represents a very different situation. Thus. 2007.1016/j. Anxiety and neuroticism It is known that self-reported anxiety covaries with depression and also with the personality trait of neuroticism (Griffith et al. For example. 2009. This raises the possibility that our findings may have been mediated by depression and/ or neuroticism. 2009. 4. consistent with earlier evidence showing faster search times when emotionally threatening information is present in the environment (Becker. Thus. This exposure time is also likely to be too brief for covert attention to become fully engaged with the object(s) on the distractor scene (see Duncan. In light of this problem. before releasing a response. Thus. our analysis included only those trials where partici- pants evidenced some awareness of the content of the distractor scene. conscious awareness and change detection. A. previous work has shown that depressed individuals tend to respond more slowly than non-depressed individuals. it is conceivable that in the supraliminal condition.2.2. our results can be viewed as suggesting that subliminal presentation of emotionally negative information facilitated change detection in anxious participants. might account for the differ- ence in performance between our two experimental groups. the experimental condition which yielded the fastest mean detection time was the condition in which anxious individuals detected a change in the presence of subliminally presented negative distractor scenes. Thus. Indeed. Indeed. & Lambert. attention may be stimulated into a dynamic state by features of the negative scene.

Appendix A.14 Three men 6230 2.10 Skier 9920 2. Evidence reported by Mitroff. 1988).19 Seal 2095 1.72 – Overall mean 2. S. or panic disorder (see Watson. & Umilta.81 Father 2800 1.09 Babies 3030 1.78 Sad child 2080 8. A.32 – Please cite this article in press as: Gregory.34 Waterfall 9342 2. 4. Gregory.49 Family 6570 2. social anxiety. Finding the former would be consistent with an attentional interpretation of differences in change detection latency.68 Sick kitten 7502 7. Eye monitoring would enable one to determine whether the effects of participant anxiety and distractor scene valence described here. eye movement data would enable us to gain a better understanding of the processes responsible for the speeding up of change detection that was observed when anxious individuals were presented with emotionally negative distractor scenes at subliminal exposure durations.77 Couple 7359 2.3. conscious awareness and change detection. doi:10.75 Baby 9250 2.50 Car accident Overall mean 7. such as those reported by Freeman et al.90 Porpoise 2730 2. Eye movement data would allow one to determine whether this performance impairment is associated with distinctive changes in eye movement behaviour. accompanied by observable changes in eye movements. Riggio. The first of these concerns the overall effect of trait anxiety on change detection latency: anx- ious individuals generally detected changes more slowly than non-anxious controls by a margin of several seconds. such as generalised anxiety. Is this effect associated with a reduction in the duration of individual fixations or with a reduction in the number of saccades needed to identify the change? Eye movement data could also shed light on a further issue associated with interpreting performance of change detection tasks of the kind employed in the current study.20 Romance 9301 2. Such data would enable two important questions provoked by the cur- rent findings to be answered. while the latter would be consistent with a non-attentional interpretation.79 Toddler 1920 7. 2010.45 Native boy 2057 7. Simons. a valuable direction for future research would be to tease out the distinctive contributions of each of these factors to change detection performance and attentional behaviour. not unreasonably.2011. 1987). Rizzolatti.19 Suicide 2550 7. A. fostered the conclusion that covert atten- tional biases in anxiety are not associated with detectable changes in patterns of eye scanning behaviour. M. future investigations may benefit from performing finer grained analyses of the relationship between change detection performance and different sub-types of anxiety.57 War victim 4641 7.26 Toilet 5260 7. Dascola. or number and magnitude of saccades.1016/j.75 Castle 9570 1.85 Pollution 5831 7. rather than milliseconds. A potentially important implication of the current study is that change detection may provide a fruitful platform for re-examining this issue.69 Ice cream 9561 2.02 Dying man 2370 7. (2000) have. 2000).92 Pie with bug 2660 7. Notwithstanding this point.09... memory and decision processes also contribute to per- formance of change detection tasks. Anxiety. 2005). Chabris. Picture description and mean valence ratings for positive and negative distractor images Positive distractor images Negative distractor images IAPS number Mean valence Description IAPS number Mean valence Description 1440 8.91 Mutilation 2150 7.68 Dog 8190 8. Consciousness and Cog- nition (2011). Simons and Levin (2004. 2002) shows that in addition to attentional processes.009 . providing an appropriate ‘temporal grain’ for studying eye movement behaviour. depression and neuroticism (Griffith et al. & Lambert. Schnur. such as number and duration of fixations. & Levin.92 Baby 3230 2. in terms of memory and decision processes (see Simons.concog. A related point is that because anxiety appears to be a heterogeneous disorder. Negative findings. Possible future investigation It is clear that future investigation of change detection performance in anxious and non-anxious individuals would also benefit greatly from inclusion of eye monitoring data. One advantage of the modified change detection task employed here is that differences in performance observed be- tween experimental conditions and between groups were in the order of seconds. Many theories of attention propose a close functional linkage between the selective allocation of covert attention and overt eye movements (see Findlay & Gilchrist.37 Aimed gun 2395 7. S. emotional spatial cueing and visual search tasks were not associated with alterations in the eye scanning behaviour of anxious individuals.M.63 Seagulls 9435 2. are or are not. Luteijn & Bouman. 2.80 Fireworks 9530 2. In light of this it would be surprising if the well documented attentional biases that have been observed in the dot-probe. Lambert / Consciousness and Cognition xxx (2011) xxx–xxx 9 response criterion is insufficient to account for the pattern displayed in Fig.27 Accident 5910 7. given the well doc- umented covariation between anxiety. 2003.93 Boys 7330 7. In addition.

(2005).009 . (2009).. 14. Russo.63 Couple 9330 2. M. & Shapiro.77 Family 6313 1. Fox.. Simons. V.M. D..98 Attack 2345 7. Garner. & Gilchrist..72 – Overall mean 2.. Emotion facilitates perception and potentiates the perceptual benefits of attention.. Bar-Haim. Threat-related attentional bias in anxious and non- anxious individuals: A meta-analytic study. and time course. Oxford: Oxford University Press. C. K. 336–353. Perception and Psychophysics. & Koch. & Calvo. O’Regan. E. 292–299. Lambert / Consciousness and Cognition xxx (2011) xxx–xxx Appendix B. Santos. E. J. Reorienting attention across the horizontal and vertical meridians: Evidence in favor of a premotor theory of attention. Luteijn.). Simons.88 Infant 2216 7. L. H. Phelps.34 Kids 9300 2. Cognitive deficits in depression: Possible implications for functional neuropathology. 178. The concepts of depression. 17. (1987). Griffith. Austin. 221–234. & Goodwin.49 Family 3530 1. (2002). & Eysenck. (1994). 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