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Time course of attentional bias in anxiety: Emotion and gender specificity


  • Jennifer L. Stewart is now at the Department of Psychology, University of Arizona. J. Christopher Edgar is now at the Department of Radiology, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Joscelyn E. Fisher is now at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine.

  • This research was supported by National Institute of Drug Abuse (R21 DA14111), the National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH61358, T32 MH19554), and the University of Illinois Beckman Institute and Intercampus Research Initiative in Biotechnology. The authors thank Emily Cahill, Laura Crocker, and Christina Murdock-Jordan for their contributions to this project.

Address reprint requests to Wendy Heller or Gregory A. Miller, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 603 E. Daniel St., Champaign, IL 61820, USA. E-mail: or


Anxiety is characterized by cognitive biases, including attentional bias to emotional (especially threatening) stimuli. Accounts differ on the time course of attention to threat, but the literature generally confounds emotional valence and arousal and overlooks gender effects, both addressed in the present study. Nonpatients high in self-reported anxious apprehension, anxious arousal, or neither completed an emotion-word Stroop task during event-related potential (ERP) recording. Hypotheses differentiated time course of preferential attention to emotional stimuli. Individuals high in anxious apprehension and anxious arousal showed distinct early ERP evidence of preferential processing of emotionally arousing stimuli along with some evidence for gender differences in processing. Healthy controls showed gender differences at both early and later processing stages. The conjunction of valence, arousal, and gender is critical in the time course of attentional bias.