Anticipatory versus reactive spatial attentional bias to threat

Br J Psychol. 2019 Feb;110(1):3-14. doi: 10.1111/bjop.12309. Epub 2018 May 10.


Dot-probe or visual probe tasks (VPTs) are used extensively to measure attentional biases. A novel variant termed the cued VPT (cVPT) was developed to focus on the anticipatory component of attentional bias. This study aimed to establish an anticipatory attentional bias to threat using the cVPT and compare its split-half reliability with a typical dot-probe task. A total of 120 students performed the cVPT task and dot-probe tasks. Essentially, the cVPT uses cues that predict the location of pictorial threatening stimuli, but on trials on which probe stimuli are presented the pictures do not appear. Hence, actual presentation of emotional stimuli did not affect responses. The reliability of the cVPT was higher at most cue-stimulus intervals and was .56 overall. A clear anticipatory attentional bias was found. In conclusion, the cVPT may be of methodological and theoretical interest. Using visually neutral predictive cues may remove sources of noise that negatively impact reliability. Predictive cues are able to bias response selection, suggesting a role of predicted outcomes in automatic processes.

Keywords: anticipatory; attentional bias; cued visual probe; predictive cue; threat.

MeSH terms

  • Anticipation, Psychological*
  • Attentional Bias*
  • Cues
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Space Perception*
  • Young Adult