Get access

The time line of threat processing and vagal withdrawal in response to a self-threatening stressor in cognitive avoidant copers: Evidence for vigilance-avoidance theory


  • This work was carried out at the Affective and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the Department of Psychological Science at Birkbeck University of London. The authors would like to thank Dr. Leor Shoker for help with programming and software preparation.

Address reprint requests to: Andreas Schwerdtfeger, Department of Psychology, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, D-55099 Mainz, Germany. E-mail address:


Using a spatial cueing paradigm with emotional and neutral facial expressions as cues, we examined early and late patterns of information processing in cognitive avoidant coping (CAV). Participants were required to detect a target that appeared either in the same location as the cue (valid) or in a different location (invalid). Cue–target onset asynchrony (CTOA) was manipulated to be short (250 ms) or long (750 ms). CAV was associated with early facilitation and faster disengagement from angry faces. No effects were found for happy or neutral faces. After completing the spatial cueing task, participants prepared and delivered a public speech and heart rate variability (HRV) was recorded. Disengagement from angry faces was related to a decrease in HRV in response to this task. Together, these data suggest that CAV is related to early engagement followed by disengagement from threat-related cues that might impact physiological stress responses.