The influence of emotional context on attention in anxious subjects: neurophysiological correlates
Several studies have shown the influence of threatening context on level of attention to target environmental stimuli. The present experiment explored the possibility that this influence of aversive context is particularly strong in anxious subjects, due to their known attentional bias towards negative information. Event-related potentials, that provide a direct index of attention-related cerebral processing, were recorded in 27 participants selected from a larger sample of 250, as a function of their trait anxiety scores (14 high, 13 low). State anxiety was also measured in selected subjects. Several contexts were presented: positive, negative, relaxing and neutral, and participants were instructed to attend, within these contexts, to a series of auditory stimuli. Threatening context triggered an increase in attention to these auditory stimuli only in conditions of high state anxiety, this increase being reflected in the greater amplitude of the P2 component, which is related to attentional processes. There were no significant differences in relation to trait anxiety. Data show that threatening context and high level of state anxiety in combination increase the quantity of attentional resources directed to the environment.