One of the most important function of selective attention is the efficient and accurate detection and identification of cues associated with threat. However, in pathological anxiety, this attentional mechanism seems to be dysfunctional, which leads to an exaggeration of threat processing and significant functional impairment. This attentional threat bias (ATB) has been proposed as a key mechanism in the etiology and maintenance of anxiety disorders. Recently, evidence has accumulated that the behavioral assessment of ATB by means of reaction times is compromised by conceptual and methodological problems. In this review paper we argue that a brain-based assessment of ATB, which includes different mechanistic aspects of biased attention, may provide neuromechanistic knowledge regarding the etiology and maintenance of anxiety, and potentially start identifying different targets for effective treatment. We summarize examples for such an approach, highlighting the strengths of electrophysiological measurements, which include the sensitivity to time dynamics, specificity to specific neurocomputational mechanisms, and the continuous/dimensional nature of the resulting variables. These desirable properties are a prerequisite for developing trans-diagnostic biomarkers of attentional bias, and hence may inform individually tailored treatment approaches.

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Keywords Anxiety disorders, Attentional threat bias, Biomarkers, EEG, Neurophysiology
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Journal International Journal of Psychophysiology
Wieser, M.J, & Keil, A. (Andreas). (2020). Attentional threat biases and their role in anxiety: A neurophysiological perspective. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 153, 148–158. doi:10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2020.05.004