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The Effects of Anxiety on Hemispheric Attention


Anxiety is often associated with changes in visual attention, particularly toward emotional or threatening stimuli (MacLeod, et al, 1986). However, common clinical tests of the attention bias present an inconclusive picture of attention in anxiety: it is often difficult to reproduce the results of one test across different samples of participants, individuals with high anxiety do not consistently focus on threat stimuli in particular, and paradigms show different effects depending on the aspect of attention measured. This dissertation takes a basic cognitive neuroscience approach to investigate the attention bias observed in anxiety. Specifically, we examined the independent contributions of the two cerebral hemispheres to the observed effect in order to verify whether differences in hemispheric specialization in different tasks could account for the difficulty replicating results. This series of experiments establishes that the effects of anxiety on attention 1) are strongly tied to typical right hemisphere specialization, 2) are selective to orienting of spatial attention, and 3) are not exclusive to the presence of threatening stimuli.

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