It has been claimed that attentional bias causes anxiety. Attentional bias is when attention is automatically captured by certain stimuli. In terms of anxiety, this can be for example, the fear of spiders. Individuals who suffer from the phobia could, for example be reading a newspaper and related stimuli such as the word ‘web’ would capture their attention. Attentional bias has been found among many anxiety disorders including social phobia, OCD, trait anxiety, social phobia and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). I will review evidence for the presence of attentional bias among anxiety disorders and try to determine whether attentional bias causes anxiety. I will review evidence from Macleod and Mathews (2002), Koster, Crombez, Verschuere, Damme and Wiersema (2006), and Bradley and Mogg (1999).
The topic of this essay will be to review the evidence that attentional bias causes anxiety. “There is widespread evidence of an attentional bias towards threat material in clinical anxiety” (MacLeod, Mathews & Tata, 1986; Mogg, Mathews & Eysenck, 1992). Certain treatments have been created for anxiety disorders that have been shown to reduce cognitive biases such as attentional bias, Fox et al (2005). This indicates that attentional bias is present within anxiety disorders. Stroop tasks have further developed research on attentional bias within anxiety as shown by Macleod (1991) and Macleod and Mathews (2002). Participants with anxiety disorders produce slower reaction times towards threat stimuli than the controls, indicating that attentional bias for threat related stimuli exists and has a greater effect on anxious individuals.
Macleod and Mathews (1991) induced attentional biases within a laboratory setting to determine that a causal effect between attentional bias and vulnerability to anxiety exists. It was concluded that attentional biases can cause vulnerability to anxiety. It was found that these biases can be learned and therefore also unlearned. Separate groups were assigned to either words with a threatening meaning or words with a neural meaning (control group). The participants trained to attend to the threat words had a faster response when detecting the targets than the neutral word group. Training seemed to induce attentional bias for all threat related words. Negative moods were assed directly after the tasks which were greater for the participants who attended to the threat related stimuli. These results not only indicate that attentional bias is present within anxiety, but biases can be induced which consequently increase levels of anxiety and negativity.
However, even though there seems to be a relationship between attentional bias and anxiety, we cannot definitely conclude that attentional bias causes anxiety. The threat words could indeed increase levels of anxiety, but that is not to say that attentional bias caused the anxiety to develop.
Similarly, Koster et al (2006), conducted similar studies of attentional bias existing...