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Trait anxiety modulates the electrophysiological indices of rapid spatial orienting towards angry faces

Fox, Elainea; Derakshan, Nazaninb; Shoker, Leorb

doi: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e3282f53d2a

We investigated the electrophysiological markers of attentional bias for threat in anxiety. Low-anxiety and high-anxiety individuals performed a spatial-cueing task, in which an emotional facial expression (angry or happy) was presented alongside a neutral expression. Results revealed that angry expressions elicited an enhanced N2pc component, but that this was true only for those reporting high levels of trait anxiety. These results confirm the early capture of spatial attention by threat-related stimuli, and demonstrate that this early bias is modulated by trait anxiety. Enhanced P1 amplitudes to targets after presentations of angry expressions were also found; however, this effect was not modulated by trait anxiety levels. Our findings indicate that individual differences in temperament are an important determinant of the early neural response to threat.

aDepartment of Psychology, University of Essex, Colchester, Essex

bSchool of Psychology, Birkbeck University of London, London, UK

Correspondence to Professor Elaine Fox, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Essex, Essex CO4 3SQ, UK

Tel: +44 1206 873783; fax: +44 1206 873590; e-mail:

Received 8 November 2007; accepted 7 December 2007

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.