Distinct and interacting impacts of trait anxiety and a state anxiety manipulation on attentional switching

Abigail L. Barthel, Idan M. Aderka, Andrew J. Byrne, Andrew D. Peckham, Stefan G. Hofmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and Objectives: According to the Attentional Control Theory, individuals with high levels of anxiety often shift their attention inefficiently due to increased effort to meet task demands. However, literature on the effects of anxiety on shifting performance is discrepant. This study examined the impacts of trait and state anxiety on attentional shifting and whether worry or depression explained variance in shifting. Design and Methods: One-hundred thirty-eight undergraduate psychology students were randomized to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) or control TSST. Subjects completed measures of state/trait anxiety, worry, and depression and a computerized attention task. Statistical analyses included linear mixed modelling (LMM), t-tests, and ANOVAs. Results: Results revealed significant effects of state and trait anxiety and worry, but not depression. Type (location/direction) and presentation (switch/repeat) of trials also affected response times. Trait anxiety significantly related to trial presentation but did not interact with trial type. State anxiety did not significantly relate to either trial index. State and trait anxiety significantly impacted overall response time. Results revealed variations in cognitive flexibility, but no interactions between state and trait anxiety in predicting task switching. Conclusion: These findings are discussed in the context of Attentional Control Theory and relevant empirical research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 409-424
Number of pages16
JournalAnxiety, Stress and Coping
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Andrew Peckham was supported by NIMH grant F32 MH115530 during completion of this manuscript.

Funding Information:
Dr. Hofmann receives financial support from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (as part of the Humboldt Prize), NIH/NCCIH (R01AT007257), NIH/NIMH (R01MH099021, U01MH108168), and the James S. McDonnell Foundation 21st Century Science Initiative in Understanding Human Cognition – Special Initiative. He receives compensation for his work as editor of Cognitive Therapy and Research from SpringerNature and the Association for Psychological Science, and as an advisor from the Palo Alto Health Sciences, Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, Jazz Pharmaceuticals. and for his work as a Subject Matter Expert from John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and SilverCloud Health, Inc. He also receives royalties and payments for his editorial work from various publishers.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Anxiety
  • attention
  • attentional control
  • cognitive flexibility
  • shifting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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