Abstract

When searching for a target, it is possible to suppress the features of a known distractor. This suppression may prevent distractor processing altogether or only after the distractor initially captures attention (i.e., search and destroy). However, suppression may be impaired in individuals with attentional control deficits, such as in high anxiety. In this study (n = 48), we used ERPs to examine the time course of attentional enhancement and suppression when participants were given pretrial information about target or distractor features. Consistent with our hypothesis, we found that individuals with higher levels of anxiety had lower neural measures of suppressing the template-matching distractor, instead showing enhanced processing. These findings indicate that individuals with anxiety are more likely to use a search-and-destroy mechanism of negative templates—highlighting the importance of attentional control abilities in distractor-guided search.

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