Original article| Volume 37, ISSUE 12, P847-858, June 15, 1995

Download started.


Visual ERPs evidence for enhanced processing of threatening information in anxious university students

  • Aviv M. Weinstein
    Address reprint requests to Dr. Aviv M. Weinstein, Psychopharmacology Unit, School of Medical Sciences, University of Bristol, University Walk, Bristol BS8 1TO, U.K.
    Psychology Department, University of Bristol, Bristol, U.K.
    Search for articles by this author
      This paper is only available as a PDF. To read, Please Download here.
      There is accumulating evidence that highly anxious individuals selectively attend to threatening information; however, contrary to expectations, there is no evidence of enhanced processing of threat stimuli in those individuals. We investigated this question by using a sample of 20 University students who were split into two groups consisting of 10 high-anxious and 10 low-anxious subjects according to Spielberger Trait Anxiety Inventory score (median STAI = 40). Without emphasizing speed, subjects were required to decide whether visually presented words (positive, neutral, or threat) matched semantically with previous priming sentences (threat or positive) displayed on a computer screen (altogether, two types of priming sentences and three types of probe words). There was a fixed interval of 1.1 seconds between priming sentences (S1) and probe words (S2) as well as between each priming sentence word. Response time and visual event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded in both conditions. The results showed that, compared to the Low-Anxious group, the amplitude of N100 and P400 were enhanced for the High-Anxious group in the threat priming conditions. Low-anxious individuals showed almost identical processing of threat-related situations and positive situations. Furthermore, the P400 peak latency was shorter for emotional incongruous probes in high-anxious individuals. ERPs results of the experiment suggest that highly anxious individuals deploy more processing resources to threatening information. This bias in information processing occurs in the absence of any behavioral changes (indicated by reaction times). Attentional bias in anxiety therefore implies that threatening information is given a priority over other information and is more persistently activated in anxiety states.
      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to Biological Psychiatry
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


        • Beck AT
        • Ward CH
        • Mendelson M
        • Mock J
        • Erbaugh J
        An Inventory for measuring depression.
        • Beck AT
        • Emery G
        Cognitive Therapy of Anxiety and Phobic Disorders.
        Centre for Cognitive Therapy, Washington DC1979
        • Bond AJ
        • James CC
        • Lader MH
        Physiological and psychological measures in anxious patients.
        Psychol Med. 1974; 4: 364-373
        • Burgess IS
        • Jones LN
        • Robertson SA
        • Radcliffe WN
        • Emerson E
        • Lawler P
        • Crowe TJ
        The degree of control exerted by phobic and non phobic verbal stimuli over the recognition behaviour of phobic and non-phobic subjects.
        Behav Res Ther. 1981; 19: 233-234
        • Chattopadahyay P
        • Cocce E
        • Toone B
        • Lader M
        Habituation of physiological responses in anxiety.
        Biol Psychiatry. 1980; 15: 711-721
        • Conway MA
        • Bekerian DA
        Situational knowledge and emotions.
        Cognition and Emotion. 1987; 1: 145-191
        • Drake ME
        • Pakalnis A
        • Phillips B
        • Padamadan H
        • Hietter SA
        Auditory evoked potentials in anxiety disorder.
        Clin Electroencephalogr. 1991; 22: 97-101
        • Eysenck MW
        • McLeod A
        • Mathews A
        Cognitive functioning and anxiety.
        Psychol Res. 1987; 49: 189-195
        • Harter MR
        • Aine CJ
        Brain mechanisms of visual selective attention.
        in: Parasuraman R Davies DR Varieties of Attention. Academic Press, Philadelphia1984
        • Hillyard SA
        Electrophysiology of human selective attention.
        Trends Neurosci. 1985; 8: 400-405
        • Kutas M
        • Hillyard SA
        Reading senseless sentences: brain potentials reflect semantic incongruity.
        Science. 1980; 207: 203-204
        • Kutas M
        • Hillyard SA
        Brain potentials during reading reflect word expectancy and semantic association.
        Nature (Lond). 1984; 307: 161-163
        • Martin M
        • Williams RM
        • Clark DM
        Does anxiety lead to selective processing of threat-related information?.
        Behav Res Ther. 1991; 29: 147-160
        • Mathews A
        • MacLeod C
        Selective processing of threat cues in anxiety states.
        Behav Res Ther. 1985; 23: 563-569
        • MacLeod C
        • Mathews A
        • Tata P
        Attentional bias in emotional disorders.
        J Abnorm Psychol. 1986; 95: 15-20
        • Mogg K
        • Mathews A
        • Weinman J
        Memory bias in anxiety.
        J Abnorm Psychol. 1987; 96: 94-98
        • Näätänen R
        The role of attention in auditory information processing as revealed by event-related potentials and other brain measures of cognitive function.
        Behav Brain Sci. 1990; 13: 201-288
        • Parkinson L
        • Rachman S
        Intrusive thoughts: the effects of an uncontrolled stress.
        Adv Behav Res Ther. 1981; 3: 111-118
        • Posner MT
        • Snyder CRR
        Attention and cognitive control.
        in: Solso RL Information Processing and Cognition: The Loyola Symposium. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc., London1975
        • Spielberger CD
        • Gorsuch RL
        • Lusthene RE
        Manual for the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Consulting Psychologists Press, Hillsdale, NJ1983
        • Walter WG
        Contingent Negative Variation.
        Nature (London). 1964; 203: 380-384