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Title: Developing novel approaches in understanding anxiety-related attentional biases to threat
Author: Raeder, Sophie-Marie
ISNI:       0000 0004 7971 5702
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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Attention is guided by both endogenous cues, such as expectations stemming from memories, and by exogenous salience, such as stimuli conveying threat. The relative contribution of these cues in directing attention is in part determined by the dispositions of the observer. In particular, trait anxiety is proposed to be marked by excessive attention to, paired with subsequent difficulty in disengaging from, threatening material. In this thesis, I explore the relationship between endogenous and exogenous sources of bias and how their relative weighting in guiding attention is modulated by trait anxiety. In particular, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 present studies that assessed how contextual memories and long-term spatial memories, respectively, interact with threat salience to guide attention in trait anxious individuals. Results of the study in Chapter 2 showed an inability in extracting spatial regularities from contexts containing faces, independent of emotion. Instead, the first study presented in Chapter 3 revealed that anxiety interfered with the recruitment of long-term memories when specifically threatening distracting information was presented. A follow-up study suggested that this interference was contingent on the duration between memory cue and target, with an elimination of anxiety-related impairments at short durations. In Chapter 4, I present a study that explored how age affects the relative input of memory cues and biases to threat in guiding attention, with findings revealing impaired recruitment of long-term memories in anxious older adults when threatening distractors were presented during memory retrieval. However, results also showed a puzzling deficit in memory recruitment, across distractor emotion, for non-anxious older adults. Chapter 5 presents the final study, the aim of which was to develop an experimental task capable of measuring the temporal dynamics of orienting attention toward and away from relevant and irrelevant threatening stimuli. The N2pc electrophysiological marker was used in order to obtain a precise measure of attentional selection. While anxiety was not included, the study was intended as a basis for future research regarding the chronometry of threat biases in trait anxiety. Finally, Chapter 6 discusses the findings from the various studies so as to form a cohesive understanding of the contributions that this research has made toward explaining anxiety-related attentional biases to threat. The chapter also discusses limitations of the studies and interesting avenues for future research that builds on the body of research presented in this thesis.
Supervisor: Nobre, Kia ; Scerif, Gaia Sponsor: National Institute of Health Research
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available