Examining Attentional Bias Through Trait Anxiety, Heart-rate Variability, and Emotional Regulation 

Dylan Vega, John Duran, Kitana Barrus and Dr. Beatrice de Oca 


Research has demonstrated that high levels of trait anxiety are correlated with an attentional bias to emotional stimuli. This bias can manifest visually primarily in one of two ways: a tendency to avoid attending to threats or a tendency to overly attend to threats. The vigilance hypothesis suggests a stimulus driven system in which individuals with high trait anxiety are more inclined to orient towards threatening or negative stimuli more often than those with lower levels of anxiety.  The maintenance hypothesis is described as a goal driven system that is characterized by an inability to disengage from a threatening or negative stimulus. Contrary to the maintenance hypothesis, the vigilance-avoidance hypothesis suggests that anxiety leads an individual to orient attention toward threatening stimuli, then the same individual may show strategic avoidance away from the stimuli. The neurovisceral integration model suggests neural networks that control cardiac autonomic activity like heart rate variability also play a role in autonomic, emotional, and cognitive self-regulation. This link can be measured by heart rate variability (HRV) and emotion self-regulation. Lower resting heart rate variability and the cognitive processing of emotional stimuli may link to the etiology of certain pathologies such as generalized anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, and depression.
The current study aims to determine how heart rate variability as well as trait anxiety may influence an individual’s attentional bias. Using trait anxiety scores, emotion regulation scores, visual attention towards threatening and neutral images sourced from the International Affective Picture System, and resting HRV, we hope to clarify the relationship between attentional bias, trait anxiety, and heart rate variability.  We expect to find that individuals who have higher levels of trait anxiety will initially orient towards threats faster than individuals with lower levels of trait anxiety.


Session 3 – 4:30p.m. – 5:45p.m.

Room C – Sierra 2411