Handbook of Cognition and Emotion

By Tim Dalgleish; Mick J. Power | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
Selective Attention and
Anxiety: A Cognitive-
Motivational Perspective

Karin Mogg and Brendan P. Bradley
University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK


INTRODUCTION

Both selective attention and emotions have important evolution-driven functions. The main functions of attention are to facilitate fast and accurate perceptual judgements and actions, and to sustain processing resources on selected stimulus inputs (LaBerge, 1995). The attentional system underlies the detection and monitoring of stimuli that are relevant to the organism' s drives and goals. Depending on these goals certain stimuli will be favoured in attention at the expense of others. The evolutionary function of emotions depends on the type of emotion (e.g. Oatley & Johnson-Laird, 1987). For example, the main function of the mechanisms underlying fear is to facilitate the detection of danger in the environment and to help the organism respond promptly and effectively to threatening situations. Following this perspective, this chapter will be concerned with biases, rather than overall deficits, in information processing associated with emotional states. In particular, we will focus on how anxiety is associated with enhanced selective attention to threat information, since several recent theories have attributed a primary role to attentional process in explaining anxiety states (e.g. Mathews, 1990; Eysenck, 1992; see also MacLeod, this volume; Öhman, this volume). Attentional processes are generally given less prominence in theoretical accounts of other emotions, such as joy or sadness. We will briefly review theories linking anxiety and attention, describe relevant research findings, identify some limitations, and consider from a cognitive-motivational perspective the mechanisms that may underlie attentional biases in anxiety; an

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