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Nick Berggren, Thomas Blonievsky, Nazanin Derakshan; Superior Visual Search Efficiency in High Trait Anxiety. Journal of Vision 2014;14(10):543. doi: 10.1167/14.10.543.
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Numerous studies have highlighted associations between self-report trait anxiety levels and impaired cognitive control (see e.g. Eysenck, Derakshan, Santos & Calvo, 2007). However, recent work has begun to also note associations between anxiety and visual perception, such as improved visual awareness for stimuli in high anxious individuals (Berggren, Blonievsky, & Derakshan, under review), as well as heightened ERP response on early visual components (e.g. Weymar, Keil, & Hamm, 2013). Notably, these effects occur not only for emotional stimuli but also affectively-neutral information. To test this account, we employed a feature versus conjunctive search task requiring participants to search through an array of letters for a target item, where efficient conjunctive search is known to require perceptual/attentional resources (Treisman & Gelade, 1980). Participants were pre-screened for high versus low levels of trait anxiety. As the set size of visual displays increased, we replicated the classic finding that featural search was relatively unaffected by increasing search difficulty, whereas conjunctive search was highly susceptible to the manipulation. Crucially, the high anxious group showed shallower increases in reaction times as set size increased for conjunctive search. This result suggests that high levels of anxiety are associated with superior visual search efficiency, implying that anxiety may influence perceptual processes as well as cognitive ones. We link this result to evidence of the amygdala enhancing perception through feedback connections with visual cortex (Amaral, Behniea, & Kelly, 2003); a network that may be bolstered by sustained experience of anxious mood.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2014
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