Novel study reveals that anxiety traits facilitate enhanced attention performance

  • Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Dr Elias Tsakanikos from the Department of Psychology published a novel research study finding that traits of moderate anxiety predict enhanced attention performance across different situations.

This study was conducted for over twelve weeks and involved a new approach to investigating the relationship between human and nonhuman experiments relating to schizophrenia, attention, and anxiety by looking at two tasks performed by rats in which their temperaments were measured in relation to their anxiety levels. In this study the rats’ stress levels were not manipulated for the purposes of the study, but rather the animals’ “temperaments” (behavioural dispositions towards responses of fear) predicted efficient development of latent inhibition’, a learning mechanism of selective attention that enables both humans and animals to filter out irrelevant and focus on relevant information.

The rats took two tasks: a novel within-subject, appetitive stimulus pre-exposure procedure, and an elevated-plus maze task an animal test of anxiety where the fear of open spaces and heights of the rats were measured.

In this study, thirty eight rats at the age of twelve months were a part of the research. Rats with moderate levels of anxiety had better performance in the late inhibition task than animals with low levels of anxiety. Measures of locomotor activity (i.e. general activity) were not associated with performance on the latent inhibition task. Latent inhibition is often used as a behavioural test of selective attention in animal and non-animal studies, as well as a behavioural model for schizophrenia. This is due to people with schizophrenia often do not demonstrate latent inhibition, being less able to ignore irrelevant and select relevant information.

Dr Elias Tsakanikos said “These results are intriguing on a number of levels and have theoretical and methodological implications for this area. In particular, they imply that the use of latent inhibition as a model for schizophrenia or attentional disorders in rats have adequate inter-species validity, and calls for more further research in this area.”

To find out more about this study you can read the full article here in the journal Learning & Behaviour.

The Research Excellence Framework 2014 rated 100% of the Department of Psychology's research ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ for its impact.