Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology (MA)

Degree Level



Psychological Science


Grant Shields

Committee Member

Matt Judah

Second Committee Member

Anastasia Makhanova


Attention, Bias, Bottom-up, Stress, Top-down


Attentional biases toward or away from emotionally evocative stimuli have been well documented and related to clinical outcomes such as social anxiety. Some work has suggested that stress modulates attentional biases, but there are a number of inconsistencies in this literature regarding the direction of that modulation, highlighting a need to examine moderators of that effect. Sex differences in stress effects could potentially explain this inconsistency, as acute stress can affect males and females differently. It is also possible that stress differentially influences multiple component processes underpinning attentional bias, but these processes have not been well character, and to date no study has examined this possibility. We addressed these gaps by examining the effects of an acute stressor on attentional bias and its component processes, quantified by computational cognitive modeling, as well as potential sex differences in these effects. We found that overall participants were significantly biased towards threat, but biases did not differ by stress condition or sex. Additionally, we found evidence that attentional bias to threat is a function of both automatic and controlled attentional processes, but that stress did not influence these processes within the context of this task. These findings help to clarify the existing discrepancy in the literature, as differences in methods may differentially affect controlled and automatic attentional processes. Additionally, these findings provide a new avenue of researching attention to threat and the automatic processes that drive it.

Available for download on Friday, August 30, 2024