Effect of attention control on sustained attention during induced anxiety

Christian Grillon, Oliver J. Robinson, Ambika Mathur, Monique Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Anxiety has wide-reaching and complex effects on cognitive performance. Although it can intrude on cognition and interfere with performance, it can also facilitate information processing and behavioural responses. In a previous study, we showed that anxiety induced by threat of shock facilitates performance on the Sustained Attention to Response Task, a vigilance test, which probes response inhibition to infrequent nogo stimuli. The present study sought to identify factors that may have contributed to such improved performance, including on- and off-task thinking (assessed with thought probes) and individual differences in attention control, as measured with the Attention Control Scale. Replicating our prior finding, we showed that shock threat significantly reduced errors of commission on the nogo trials. However, we extended this finding in demonstrating that this effect was driven by subjects with low attention control. We therefore confirm that anxiety increases inhibitory control of prepotent responses—a mechanism which is adaptive under threat—and show that this effect is greater in those who rely more upon such prepotent responding, i.e., those with low attentional control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)700-712
Number of pages13
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 18 2016


  • Anxiety
  • SART
  • Stress
  • Threat of shock
  • Vigilance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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