Do not look away! Spontaneous frontal EEG theta/beta ratio as a marker for cognitive control over attention to mild and high threat

Biol Psychol. 2018 May:135:8-17. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2018.03.002. Epub 2018 Mar 5.


Background: Low spontaneous EEG theta/beta ratio (TBR) is associated with greater executive control. Their role in regulation of attentional bias for stimuli of different threat-levels is unknown.

Objectives: To provide the first relations between frontal TBR, trait anxiety and attentional bias to mildly and highly threatening stimuli at different processing-stages.

Methods: Seventy-four healthy volunteers completed spontaneous EEG measurement, a self-report trait anxiety questionnaire and a dot-probe task with stimuli of different threat-level and 200 and 500 ms cue-target delays.

Results: Participants with high TBR directed attention towards mildly threatening and avoided highly threatening pictures. Moreover, the most resilient participants, (low TBR and low trait anxiety) showed attention towards highly threatening stimuli. There were no effects of delay.

Conclusions: These data confirm that executive control is crucial for the study of threat-related attentional bias and further support the notion that TBR is a marker of cognitive control over emotional information.

Keywords: Anxiety; Attentional bias; Attentional control; EEG; Theta/beta ratio.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Attentional Bias / physiology*
  • Beta Rhythm*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Self Report
  • Theta Rhythm*
  • Young Adult