Sample page: Visual probe technique

The visual probe technique (sometimes referred to as the dot-probe paradigm) was designed to assess selective attention. This means the technique is used to determine whether an individual is more or less prone to being influenced by certain stimuli. It is a commonly used neuropsychological technique to determine the presence and extent of anxiety type in an individual. The basis is to test reaction speed and assess whether other stimuli influence reaction speed. Macleod, Mathews and Tata introduced the technique in 1986 to assess attention in common mental disorders (MacLeod et al, 1986).


One example of the visual probe technique is where people are asked to read words as they appear one at a time on a screen. They are required to press a button as quickly as possible when a dot appears instead. This measures reaction speed (Kent & Turpin, 1999).


If a threatening word is displayed for people with an anxiety disorder, their reaction time is reduced, most likely because their attention shifts. People without an anxiety disorder do not have this delay in reaction time because they do not selectively attend to the threatening words (Kent & Turpin, 1999).  


Other tasks can also elicit a delayed reaction time in people with anxiety. Using the dichotic listening task, threatening words in the unshadowed ear slowed responses to a visual task on a computer (Kent & Turpin, 1999).


Below is an example of the visual probe technique. Give it a try and see how your attentional bias is influenced. 



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Try another example here. In this example, face types rather than words are used to see if there is an influence on reaction speed. Have a go, this test may tell you if you selectively attend to certain face types or not.
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