Attentional bias for threat: Reliability of 36 versions of the threat dot probe task

Irene Xu, BA

McLean Hospital – Research Assistant
XU_IRENE poster

Scientific Abstract

Background: Cognitive, clinical, and neuroimaging studies indicate that anxious and non-anxious individuals show an attentional bias towards threatening stimulus. Over the past 30 years, the Threat Dot Probe Task has been a widely used task for capturing attentional bias to threat. Recent work suggests, however, that the Dot Probe Task has very low reliability, indicating inconsistent attentional biases across tests and trials. The current study aimed to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the reliability of the Dot Probe Task across test versions to identify whether any version produce reliable scores.

Methods: Thirty-six digital versions of the Threat Dot Probe Task were developed with variations in the type of stimulus, SOA (stimulus onset asynchrony), comparison type, and stimulus orientation. 7794 participants recruited through were randomized to one of the 36 versions. Split-half reliability was estimated for each test version.

Results: Across all versions, participants did not show consistently faster or more accurate responses to threat congruent trials (probe appears where the threatening stimulus was) than to incongruent trials (probe appears where the neutral stimulus was). Reliability was low (often indistinguishable from zero) across all versions.

Conclusions: The Threat Dot Probe Task is not a reliable measure of individual differences in attentional bias to threat. We identified no versions that produced adequate reliability for inclusion in research studies.

Live Zoom Session – March 9th

research Areas


Irene Xu, BA, Eliza Passell, BS, Roger Strong, PhD, Laura Germine, PhD

Principal Investigator

Laura Germine, PhD

Affiliated Website