Individuals with high levels of anxiety are hypothesized to have impaired executive control functions that would otherwise enable efficient filtering of irrelevant information. Pinpointing specific deficits is difficult, however, because anxious individuals may compensate for deficient control functions by allocating greater effort. Here, we used event-related potential (ERP) indices of attentional selection (the N2pc) and suppression (the PD) to determine whether high trait anxiety is associated with a deficit in preventing the misallocation of attention to salient, but irrelevant, visual-search distractors. Like their low-anxiety counterparts (N=19), anxious individuals (N=19) were able to suppress the distractor, as evidenced by the presence of a PD. Critically, however, the distractor was found to trigger an earlier N2pc in the high-anxiety group but not in the low-anxiety group. These findings indicate that, whereas low-anxiety individuals can prevent distraction in a proactive fashion, anxious individuals deal with distractors only after they have diverted attention.
High Level of Trait Anxiety Leads to Salience-Driven Distraction and Compensation
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