The development of an attentional bias for angry faces following Pavlovian fear conditioning

Leah K. Pischek-Simpson, Mark J. Boschen*, David L. Neumann, Allison M. Waters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Although it is well documented that fear responses develop following aversive Pavlovian conditioning, it is unclear whether fear learning also manifests in the form of attentional biases for fear-related stimuli. Boschen, Parker, and Neumann (Boschen, M. J., Parker, I., & Neumann, D. L. (2007). Changes in implicit associations do not occur simultaneously to Pavlovian conditioning of physiological anxiety responses. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21, 788-803.) showed that despite the acquisition of differential skin conductance conditioned responses to angry faces paired (CS+) and unpaired (CS-) with an aversive shock, development of implicit associations was not subsequently observed on the Implicit Association Test. In the present study, participants (N = 76) were assigned either to a Shock or NoShock group and completed a similar aversive Pavlovian conditioning procedure with angry face CS+ and CS- stimuli. Participants next completed a visual probe task in which the angry face CS+ and CS- stimuli were paired with angry face control stimuli and neutral faces. Results confirmed that differential fear conditioning was observed in the Shock group but not in the NoShock group, and that the Shock group subsequently showed a selective attentional bias for the angry face CS+ compared with the CS- and control stimuli during the visual probe task. The findings confirm the interplay between learning-based mechanisms and cognitive processes, such as attentional biases, in models of fear acquisition and have implications for treatment of the anxiety disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)322-330
Number of pages9
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attentional bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Fear conditioning
  • Pavlovian conditioning
  • Phobic responses


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