The dot-probe task is not only popular in cognitive psychology, but also in other areas, such as educational and clinical psychology. In short, this tasks measures how much faster people respond to threatening stimuli compared to neutral stimuli.

A threatening stimulus can be a stimulus such as a word that makes your nervous or anxious. For example, if you have test anxiety, the word "exam" might make you slightly nervous. In some dot probe experiments words are used whereas in others images are used. In the current example we use words.

The first article published about it was by MacLeod and colleagues (1986). Since then, different versions have been developed.

About this implementation

In this study, we use the test anxiety dot-probe task by David Putwain and colleagues (2011). There are threatening words related to exams/tests, such as "exam" and "failure" and neutral words.

This test was originall designed for use in England. But because PsyToolkit is used around the world, in this implementation. If you want to adjust it for use outside the UK, you need to look for the words "GCSE". Also note that British spelling is used ("kilometre"). You can easily change these words yourself in the file mytable.txt.

The instructions are provided in the instructions.svg file (which you can open with an SVG editor such as Inkscape). Note that the rounded font used in the instructions might need to be downloaded additionally (if you do not have it, Inkscape will use a default font).

TIP In the original study, a survey measured test anxiety. If you like to do a similar study, PsyToolkit recommends a short test anxiety questionnaire. You can find the 5-question Test Anxiety Inventory in the PsyToolkit survey library.

Run the demo

In this example, you will

Data output file

In PsyToolkit, the data output file is simply a textfile. The save line of the PsyToolkit experiment script determines what is being saved in the data output file. Typically, for each experimental trial, you would have exactly one line in your text file, and each number/word on that line gives you the information you need for your data analysis, such as the condition, response speed, and whether an error was made.

Meaning of the columns in the output datafile. You need this information for your data analysis.

Colum Meaning


Condition. 1=Neutral, 2=threatening


Reaction time


Status (1=correct,2=wrong,3=too slow)


The probe position (1=top, 2=bottom)


The arrow direction (1=left, 2=right)


Row of table


Top word/phrase


Bottom word/phrase


If you have a PsyToolkit account, you can upload the zipfile directly to your PsyToolkit account. Watch a video on how to do that. If you want to upload the zipfile into your PsyToolkit account, make sure the file is not automatically uncompressed (some browsers, especially Mac Safari, by default uncompress zip files). Read here how to easily deal with this.

Further reading

  • Putwain, D.W, Langdale, H.C., Woods, K.A., Nicholson, L.J. (2011). Developing and piloting a dot-probe measure of attentional bias for test anxiety. Learning and Individual Differences, 21(4), 478-482. Publisher’s link

  • MacLeod, C., Mathews, A. M., & Tata, P. (1986). Attentional bias in emotional disorders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95, 15-20.