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In three experiments, high and low trait-anxious individuals were required to classify a centrally located number as odd or even while ignoring spatially separate threat-related or neutral words. It was found that high anxious subjects showed a selective bias to process threatening stimuli when the stimuli were pattern masked after a brief exposure (14msec). However, this automatic processing bias was apparent only under certain conditions: distractors were within focal attention; masked and unmasked distractors were randomly intermixed; or masked trials were presented after unmasked trials. These results suggest that automatic processing biases in high traitanxious individuals are influenced by contextual factors. There was also a suggestion of a qualitative difference in attentional bias between conscious (unmasked) and nonconscious (masked) states, providing evidence for perception without awareness. The theoretical implications of these results are discussed.

Original publication




Journal article


Cognition and Emotion

Publication Date





449 - 480