Instructional learning of threat-related attentional capture is modulated by state anxiety. Academic Article uri icon


  • The present study aimed to determine whether persistent threat-related attentional capture can result from instructional learning, when participants acquire knowledge of the aversive qualities of a stimulus through verbal instruction. Fifty-four nonclinical adults first performed a visual search task in which a green or red circle was presented as a target. They were instructed that one of these two colors might be paired with an electric shock if they responded slowly or inaccurately, whereas the other color was never associated with shock. However, no shocks were actually delivered. In a subsequent test phase, in which participants were explicitly informed that shocks were no longer possible, former-target-color stimuli were presented as distractors in a visual search task for a shape-defined target. In both tasks, although participants were never exposed to the electric shock, we observed a significant correlation between threat-related attentional priority and state anxiety. Our results demonstrate that exposure to a stimulus with the belief that it could be threatening is sufficient to generate a persistent attentional bias toward that stimulus, but this effect is modulated by state anxiety. Attentional biases for fear-relevant stimuli have been implicated in anxiety disorders, and our findings demonstrate that for anxious participants, attentional biases can be entirely the product of erroneous beliefs concerning the linking between stimuli and possible outcomes. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

published proceedings

  • Emotion

altmetric score

  • 2.1

author list (cited authors)

  • Grgoire, L., & Anderson, B. A.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • GrĂ©goire, Laurent||Anderson, Brian A

publication date

  • August 2023