Selective visual working memory in fear of spiders: the role of automaticity and material-specificity.
Reinecke A., Becker ES., Rinck M.
Following cognitive models of anxiety, biases occur if threat processing is automatic versus strategic. Therefore, most of these models predict attentional bias, but not explicit memory bias. We suggest dividing memory into the highly automatic working memory (WM) component versus long-term memory when investigating bias in anxiety. WM for threat has rarely been investigated although its main function is stimulus monitoring, particularly important in anxiety. We investigated WM for spiders in spider fearfuls (SFs) versus non-anxious controls (NACs). In Experiment 1 (23 SFs/24 NACs), we replicated an earlier WM study, reducing strategic processing options. This led to stronger group differences and, thus, clearer WM threat biases. There were no group differences in Experiment 2 (18 SFs/19 NACs), using snakes instead of spiders to test whether WM biases are material-specific. This article supports cognitive models of anxiety in that biases are more likely to occur when reducing strategic processing. However, it contradicts the assumption that explicit memory biases are not characteristic of anxiety.