Anxiety enhances threat processing without competition among multiple inputs: a diffusion model analysis

Emotion. 2010 Oct;10(5):662-77. doi: 10.1037/a0019474.


Enhanced processing of threatening information is a well established phenomenon among high-anxious individuals. This effect is most reliably shown in situations where 2 or more items compete for processing resources, suggesting that input competition is a critical component of the effect. However, it could be that there are small effects in situations without input competition, but the dependent measures typically used are not sensitive enough to detect them. The present study analyzed data from a noncompetition task, single-string lexical decision, with the diffusion model, a decision process model that provides a more direct measure of performance differences than either response times or accuracy alone. The diffusion model analysis showed a consistent processing advantage for threatening words in high-anxious individuals, whereas traditional comparisons showed no significant differences. These results challenge the view that input competition is necessary for enhanced threat processing. Implications for theories of anxiety are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Electronic Data Processing*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linguistics
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological