Subchance perception: Anxious, non-defensive individuals identify subliminally-presented positive words at below-chance levels

E. Samuel Winer, Daniel Cervone, Leonard Scott Newman, Michael Snodgrass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Scopus citations


People who chronically experience anxiety are biased towards subliminally-presented negative information. Recent research has shown that they may also avoid subliminally-presented positive information. However, these findings are equivocal due to the limitations of previous paradigms and measures. This paper reports two experiments demonstrating that highly anxious, non-defensive individuals exhibit subchance perception when attempting to identify subliminally-presented positive words; that is, they identify such words with accuracy rates that are below chance (guessing). Participants attempted to identify masked positively and negatively valenced words that had been presented briefly (6.4. ms) in a two-alternative forced-choice paradigm. In Experiment 1, persons high in trait anxiety and low in defensiveness identified positive words at below-chance levels and negative words at above-chance levels. No other participant-group's performance differed from chance. In Experiment 2, persons high in trait anxiety and low in defensiveness again exhibited subchance perception of positive words when responding quickly. This represents the clearest evidence to date that anxious, non-defensive individuals systematically avoid subliminally-presented positive information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)996-1001
Number of pages6
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2011



  • Anxiety
  • Defensiveness
  • Emotion
  • Inhibition
  • Subchance perception
  • Subliminal perception
  • Word recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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