The importance of understanding affective responsivity as pertaining to global health-related issues and a variety of clinical pathologies cannot be overstated. Indeed, such maladies as depression, anxiety disorders, phobias, and eating disorders, among others, strongly implicate dysfunctional affective regulation. The extent to which anxiety and fear related disorders are characterized by attentional maintenance or avoidance holds critical implications for the delivery of treatments such as exposure (in vivo and systematic desensitization), cognitive, and behavioral therapies that rely upon manipulation of attention / emotion interactions among people with affective disorders. Although various paradigms for assessment of emotional reactivity and attentional biases have been developed, each has yielded clearly limited and conflicting information concerning overt and covert indices of attentional allocation when detecting and processing emotional material. Three separate experiments are proposed to clarify discrepant interpretations concerning the maintenance and avoidance of affective cues among high and low trait anxious subjects. In Experiment 1, eye movements will be tracked during performance of a dot probe task across extended stimulus presentation periods to determine the direction and duration of attentional biases. Experiments 2 and 3 are designed to further evaluate the locus and extent of attentional biases by including a startle probe within the context of viewed picture arrays. As such, the degree of coupling between eye movements when viewing affective content (as determined through gaze behavior measures) and attentional allocation to emotional content (as assessed by startle modulated eye blink magnitude) will be determined. In turn, discrepant findings between advocates of avoidance and maintenance orientations to attentional biases will be resolved. Completion of the project will permit a more comprehensive and mechanistic understanding of approach and withdrawal behavior as related to emotional responsivity. Though basic in nature, the proposed line of research will provide a needed advance in the specificity by which attentional allocation and emotional reactivity can be measured, and consequently, will inform treatment modalities to alleviate the dysfunctional attentional biases that underlie anxiety related disorders. ? ?

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Small Research Grants (R03)
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Biobehavioral Mechanisms of Emotion, Stress and Health Study Section (MESH)
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Kozak, Michael J
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University of Florida
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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