The role of cognitive biases in the experience of emotion
The aim of this programme of research was to explore individual differences in
the operation of interpretive and attentional biases within the framework of the fourfactor
theory (Eysenck, 1997).
Study one examined symptom interpretation and the influence of interpretive
biases on future performance expectations in high-anxious, low-anxious and repressor
individuals. Contrary to predictions, anxiety symptom interpretation was found not to
differ across groups. In addition, high-anxious individuals showed no tendency towards
pessimism, whereas repressors were overly-optimistic regarding their future
Study two examined the effect of bogus performance feedback on the exhibition
of interpretive biases. The results showed that high-anxious individuals were initially
overly pessimistic regarding future performance expectations whereas repressors were
initially overly optimistic. However, positive feedback eliminated pessimistic
expectations in high-anxious individuals and negative feedback eliminated optimistic
In study three, the influence of mood on attentional biases to negative and
positive emotional stimuli was examined. High-anxious individuals' attentional bias to
negative stimuli was apparent only during negative mood. No evidence of an opposite
attentional bias in repressors was found irrespective of induced mood. Repressors
showed an avoidance of positive stimuli during negative mood. Positive mood exerted
no influence on the attentional biases of the groups to either positive or negative stimuli.
Study four examined the influence of exercise-induced physiological activity on
the attentional biases of high anxious and repressor groups. High anxious individuals
demonstrated a bias towards negative stimuli during moderate levels of physiological
activity. Repressors did not show avoidance of threat in any of the experimental
conditions. However, high levels of exercise-induced physiological activity were
associated with an avoidance of positive stimuli in repressors.
In summary, the studies demonstrated that cognitive biases of high anxious
individuals are not as stable as previously thought and they are influenced by feedback,
prevailing mood and physiological activity. The findings fail to support the contention
that repressors avoid processing threat. Paradoxically, these individuals appeared more
likely to avoid processing positive stimuli. In light of these findings, this research
suggests that Eysenck's (1997) four-factor theory requires modification.