Time-course of attention to negative stimuli: negative affectivity, anxiety, or dysphoria?

Emotion. 2012 Oct;12(5):943-59. doi: 10.1037/a0027227. Epub 2012 Mar 5.


Although biased attention to emotional stimuli is considered a vulnerability factor for anxiety and dysphoria, research has infrequently related such attentional biases to dimensional models of vulnerability for anxiety and mood disorders. In two studies (Study 1, n = 64; Study 2, n = 168), we evaluate the differential associations of general negative affectivity, anxiety, and dysphoria with biases in selective attention among nonclinical participants selected to vary in both anxiety and dysphoria. Across both studies, preferential processing of angry faces at a 300-ms exposure duration was associated with a general tendency to experience a range of negative affect, rather than being specific to symptoms of either anxiety or dysphoria. In the second study, we found evidence of a suppressor relationship between anxiety and dysphoria in the prediction of delayed attentional biases (1,000 ms) for sad faces. In particular, dysphoria was specifically associated with biased attention toward sad cues, but only after statistically accounting for anxiety; by contrast, anxiety was specifically associated with attentional avoidance of sad cues, but only after statistically accounting for dysphoria. These results suggest that the specificity of relationships between components of negative affectivity and attention to emotional stimuli varies as a function of the time course at which attentional biases are assessed, highlighting the importance of evaluating both anxiety and dysphoria in research on attentional processing of emotional stimuli.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Affect*
  • Anxiety*
  • Attention*
  • Depression*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Young Adult