University of Sussex
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Acquiring fear and threat related attentional biases through informational learning

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posted on 2023-06-08, 11:18 authored by Saeid Sheikh Rohani
Research has found that threat related attentional biases towards novel animals can be induced in children by giving threat information about the animals. Naturally occurring (i.e. non-induced) threat related attentional biases have also been found in both children and adults in the past research. The naturally occurring threat stimuli mainly include phobia stimuli and the threat stimuli that are assumed to have evolutionary roots (e.g., threatening facial expressions, and poisonous animals). In the present research, induced and naturally occurring threat related attentional biases were investigated and contrasted in children and adults. The participants' manual RTs and eye movements were measured in five experiments using the visual search paradigm to examine the attentional biases. The participating children, regardless of their trait anxiety scores, showed attentional bias toward angry faces as indexed by RT and eye movement measures. In the second and third experiments, children acquired fear of novel animals by listening to threat information about them. They later showed attentional bias to the newly feared stimuli: the presence of the animal's images interfered with detecting an irrelevant target, and the animal's images were detected faster than the control stimuli when presented as hidden targets in naturalistic scenes. In the fourth and fifth experiments, no enhancement of attentional bias towards fear-relevant stimuli due to receiving threat information was evident, as no difference was found between the threat information and the no information snake stimuli in terms of attention deployment measures. Strong evidence of naturally occurring attentional bias toward snake stimuli, however, was found in both RTs and overt attention indices. Overall, the RT data provided more robust evidence than the eye movement data in support of the predicted threat related attentional biases. It was argued that attentional biases to fear stimuli might have different levels which develop over time, with fast threat processing (indexed by faster RTs) appearing soon after the fear is acquired


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