Sidebar: The Dot-Probe Task

In the dot-probe task, participants viewed a pair of emotionally evocative images or words presented simultaneously. The stimuli were then immediately removed, and a probe replaced one of the images on the screen. Participants were instructed to hit the computer key that corresponded to the probe as quickly as possible. The faster individuals respond, the more likely it is that they have been paying attention to the image that was located in same position as the probe.

Weems and colleagues found that individuals with trait anxiety tended to respond to a probe more swiftly if the previous stimuli suggested threat (e.g., the word “fear”), whereas callous–unemotional individuals tended to detect the probe more quickly following images of pain, distress, and suffering.