Attentional biases to threat are considered central to anxiety disorders, however physiological evidence of their nature and time course is lacking. Event-related potentials (ERPs) characterized sensory and cognitive changes while 20 outpatients with panic disorder (PD), 20 with obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), and 20 healthy controls (HCs) responded to the color (emotional Stroop task) or meaning of threatening and neutral stimuli. ERPs indicated larger P1 amplitude and longer N1 latency in OCD, and shorter P1 latency in PD, to threatening (versus neutral) stimuli, across instructions to attend to, or ignore, threat content. Emotional Stroop interference correlated with phobic anxiety and was significant in PD. Participants with emotional Stroop interference had augmented P1 and P3 amplitudes to threat (versus neutral) stimuli when color-naming. The results suggest early attentional biases to threat in both disorders, with disorder-specific characteristics. ERPs supported preferential early attentional capture and cognitive elaboration hypotheses of emotional Stroop interference.