Attentional control mediates fearful responding to an ecologically valid stressor
Richey, John A.
White, Bradley A.
Schmidt, N. B.
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Background and Objectives: Attentional control (AC) is defined as the ability to voluntarily shift and disengage attention, and is thought to moderate the relationship between pre-existing risk factors for fear and the actual experience of fear. Design: This longitudinal study elaborates on current models of attentional control by examining whether AC moderates or mediates effects of an ecologically valid stressor (a college exam), and also whether AC is predictive of state-like fear over longer timescales than previously reported. Methods: Based on previous findings we hypothesized that AC would moderate the relationship between trait anxiety and affective distress in response to the exam stressor. We also tested a competing mediational model based on attentional control theory (Eysenck et al., 2007). These models were tested in two separate samples (Sample 1 N=219; Sample 2 N=129; Total N= 348) at two time points, at the beginning of a college semester in a large undergraduate class, and five minutes prior to a college exam. Results: Mediation but not moderation of anxiety by AC was supported in both samples using multiple dependent measures. Conclusion: We conclude that AC may be useful in predicting affective distress in naturalistic settings, particularly in cases where anxiety is anticipatory.