Anxiety and cognitive performance: attentional control theory

Emotion. 2007 May;7(2):336-53. doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.7.2.336.


Attentional control theory is an approach to anxiety and cognition representing a major development of Eysenck and Calvo's (1992) processing efficiency theory. It is assumed that anxiety impairs efficient functioning of the goal-directed attentional system and increases the extent to which processing is influenced by the stimulus-driven attentional system. In addition to decreasing attentional control, anxiety increases attention to threat-related stimuli. Adverse effects of anxiety on processing efficiency depend on two central executive functions involving attentional control: inhibition and shifting. However, anxiety may not impair performance effectiveness (quality of performance) when it leads to the use of compensatory strategies (e.g., enhanced effort; increased use of processing resources). Directions for future research are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Attention*
  • Efficiency
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Problem Solving
  • Reaction Time