Helen Sawaya

Date of Award

January 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Richard Ferraro


Negative and positive attention bias (AB) is the preferential allocation of attentional resources to negative and positive stimuli in the environment, respectively. AB has been studied in various clinical and non-clinical populations and the process has been linked to symptoms of depression and anxiety. Findings so far suggest that negative AB is a trait-based factor that predisposes individuals to anxiety and depression. Positive AB appears specific to a depressed state, yet findings generally remain mixed. Measures of AB have been recently critiqued for their poor psychometric properties. This study addresses three gaps in the literature to further our understanding of the relationship between AB and psychopathology. The aims of this study were to determine whether 1) the core symptoms of depression (anhedonia) and anxiety (anxious arousal) are related to differential patterns of negative and positive AB, 2) anhedonia and anxious arousal have incremental utility in predicting AB over and above negative affectivity, 3) AB predicts group membership (clinical vs non-clinical). The dot-probe paradigm was administered to 144 participants from various settings. Mixed effects modeling was used to predict the relationship between Type of Trial (negative or positive vs neutral), Congruence (congruent vs incongruent), and Group (anhedonia, anxious arousal, comorbid, control) on response rate or error rate. Results from random effects analysis showed that inter-subject variability was significant. Fixed effects analyses showed that the present study failed to capture positive and negative AB. Between group differences in raw reaction times were observed. Implications of the findings with regards to methodological differences across studies are discussed.