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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

R. Douglas Whitman


Research suggests that individuals high in anxiety are more vigilant for threatening words than are individuals who are not highly anxious (e.g., Richard & French, 1992). Research also shows that the right hemisphere is more vigilant for threatening stimuli than the left hemisphere (e.g., Van Strien & Heijt, 1995). This study was designed to evaluate the lateralized effects of threatening stimuli in subjects with low and high anxiety by utilizing a lexical decision task. Fifty-two high trait anxiety subjects and 48 low trait anxiety subjects, as determined by the STAI-T, participated in the study. Subjects were given self-report measures and administered a lateralized lexical decision task composed of threat prime words followed by threat or neutral target words or non-word targets. Regarding reaction time analyses, it was found that all hemisphere conditions had reaction times statistically similar at both short and long SOAs to threat target words. It was found that the right-right hemisphere (left-left hemifield presentation) did show greater facilitation (reduced reaction time) to threat versus neutral target words at a long SOA (750 ms). However, this finding was not found for the right-left hemisphere (left-right hemifield presentation). Regarding priming analyses, the primed right hemisphere showed positive priming (responding faster to threat than neutral words) at only a long SOA. High trait anxiety participants showed a trend of responding faster to threat than neutral words at a long SOA of 750 ms and showed inhibition to threat versus neutral target words at a short SOA of 50 ms. The lack of significant between-group differences in analyses could be due to both groups not being equivalent on measures of alexithymia, depression, and social desirability. In addition, the dependent measures of reaction time and accuracy may not have been sensitive enough measures of lexical processing. Limitations are discussed. Future research should further explore types of anxiety such as anxious apprehension and anxious arousal and the effects they may have on responses to threatening stimuli presented to both hemispheres.

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