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Previous studies of biased information processing in anxiety addressed biases of attention and memory, but little is known about the processes taking place between them: visual working memory (VWM) and monitoring of threat. We investigated these processes with a change detection paradigm. In Experiment 1, spider fearfuls (SF) and non-anxious controls (NAC) judged two subsequently presented displays as same or different. The displays consisted of several pictures, one of which could depict a spider. In Experiment 2, SF and NAC, both without snake fear, were tested with displays including either a spider or a snake image to determine the material-specificity of biased VWM. Both groups showed increased change detection for threat images. This effect was significantly stronger in SF, for spider images only, indicating a threat-specific VWM bias. Thus, contrary to the assumptions made by most cognitive models of anxiety, an explicit memory bias was found.

Original publication




Journal article


Behav Res Ther

Publication Date





770 - 778


Adult, Animals, Anxiety, Bias, Fear, Humans, Memory, Short-Term, Phobic Disorders, Photic Stimulation, Snakes, Spiders, Visual Perception