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We investigated the effects of awareness on selective attention for masked and unmasked verbal threat material using a computerised version of the emotional Stroop. Participants were assigned to the high trait anxious (HTA) and low trait anxious (LTA) groups on the basis of questionnaire scores, and state anxiety was manipulated within participants through the threat of electric shock. To investigate the effects of awareness on responses to threat, the mode of exposure was blocked such that half the participants received masked trials before the unmasked trials, whereas the other half received the reverse order. The results revealed that there was no difference between the HTA and LTA groups in responses to threat for those who received the masked trials before the unmasked trials. However, when unmasked trials were presented before the masked trials HTA individuals were significantly slower to respond to both masked and unmasked threat words compared to the LTA group, and these effects were not further modified by participants' state anxiety status. The results are discussed in terms of the automatic nature of threat processing in anxiety.
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