Inhibitory attentional control in anxiety: Manipulating cognitive load in an antisaccade task
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Theorists have proposed that heightened anxiety vulnerability is characterised by reduced attentional control performance and have made the prediction in turn that elevating cognitive load will adversely impact attentional control performance for high anxious individuals to a greater degree than low anxious individuals. Critically however, existing attempts to test this prediction have been limited in their methodology and have presented inconsistent findings. Using a methodology capable of overcoming the limitations of previous research, the present study sought to investigate the effect of manipulating cognitive load on inhibitory attentional control performance of high anxious and low anxious individuals. High and low trait anxious participants completed an antisaccade task, requiring the execution of prosaccades towards, or antisaccades away from, emotionally toned stimuli while eye movements were recorded. Participants completed the antisaccade task under conditions that concurrently imposed a lesser cognitive load, or greater cognitive load. Analysis of participants’ saccade latencies revealed high trait anxious participants demonstrated generally poorer inhibitory attentional control performance as compared to low trait anxious participants. Furthermore, conditions imposing greater cognitive load, as compared to lesser cognitive load, resulted in enhanced inhibitory attentional control performance across participants generally. Crucially however, analyses did not reveal an effect of cognitive load condition on anxiety-linked differences in inhibitory attentional control performance, indicating that elevating cognitive load did not adversely impact attentional control performance for high anxious individuals to a greater degree than low anxious individuals. Hence, the present findings are inconsistent with predictions made by some theorists and are in contrast to the findings of earlier investigations. These findings further highlight the need for research into the relationship between anxiety, attentional control, and cognitive load.
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