Anxious mood narrows attention in feature space

Ezra Wegbreit*, Steven Franconeri, Mark Beeman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Spatial attention can operate like a spotlight whose scope can vary depending on task demands. Emotional states contribute to the spatial extent of attentional selection, with the spotlight focused more narrowly during anxious moods and more broadly during happy moods. In addition to visual space, attention can also operate over features, and we show here that mood states may also influence attentional scope in feature space. After anxious or happy mood inductions, participants focused their attention to identify a central target while ignoring flanking items. Flankers were sometimes coloured differently than targets, so focusing attention on target colour should lead to relatively less interference. Compared to happy and neutral moods, when anxious, participants showed reduced interference when colour isolated targets from flankers, but showed more interference when flankers and targets were the same colour. This pattern reveals that the anxious mood caused these individuals to attend to the irrelevant feature in both cases, regardless of its benefit or detriment. In contrast, participants showed no effect of colour on interference when happy, suggesting that positive mood did not influence attention in feature space. These mood effects on feature-based attention provide a theoretical bridge between previous findings concerning spatial and conceptual attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)668-677
Number of pages10
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 19 2015


  • Anxiety
  • Emotion
  • Happiness
  • Mood induction
  • Selective attention
  • Visual attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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