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Contamination fear and attention bias variability early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a dramatic increase in the salience and importance of information relating to both the risk of infection, and factors that could mitigate against such risk. This is likely to have contributed to elevated contamination fear concerns in the general population. Biased attention for contamination-related information has been proposed as a potential mechanism underlying contamination fear, though evidence regarding the presence of such biased attention has been inconsistent. A possible reason for this is that contamination fear may be characterised by variability in attention bias that has not yet been examined. The current study examined the potential association between attention bias variability for both contamination-related and mitigation-related stimuli, and contamination fear during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. A final sample of 315 participants completed measures of attention bias and contamination fear. The measure of average attention bias for contamination-related stimuli and mitigation-related stimuli was not associated with contamination fear (r = 0.055 and r = 0.051, p > 0.10), though both attention bias variability measures did show a small but statistically significant relationship with contamination fear (r = 0.133, p < 0.05; r = 0.147, p < 0.01). These attention bias variability measures also accounted for significant additional variance in contamination fear above the average attention bias measure (and controlling for response time variability). These findings provide initial evidence for the association between attention bias variability and contamination fear, underscoring a potential target for cognitive bias interventions for clinical contamination fear.

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