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Stress-Related Psychological Symptoms Are Associated with Increased Attentional Capture by Visually Salient Distractors

  • Michael Esterman (a1) (a2), Joseph DeGutis (a1) (a3), Rogelio Mercado (a1), Andrew Rosenblatt (a1), Jennifer J. Vasterling (a1) (a2), William Milberg (a1) (a3) and Regina McGlinchey (a1) (a3)...


Research has shown that attention can be abnormally drawn to salient threat- or trauma-related information in individuals with posttraumatic stress and related psychological symptoms. The nature of this attentional bias is thought to derive from capture of attention toward potential threat overpowering the volitional, goal-directed attentional system. However, it is unclear whether this pattern of attentional dysregulation generalizes to salient, but non-emotional types of information. Using a well-established and sensitive measure of attentional capture, the current study demonstrates that posttraumatic psychological symptom severity is associated with the capture of attention by visually salient, non-emotional distractors. Specifically, during visual search for a unique shape, the presence of a task-irrelevant but salient color singleton disrupted search efficiency, and this disruption was correlated with both posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression symptom severity as assessed by self-report. These findings suggest that posttraumatic stress and depression may be characterized as involving a general alteration of the balance between salience-based and goal-directed attentional systems. (JINS, 2013, 19, 1–6)


Corresponding author

Correspondence and reprint requests to: Michael Esterman, VA Boston Healthcare System, 150 South Huntington Avenue (182 JP), Boston, MA 02130. E-mail:


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Stress-Related Psychological Symptoms Are Associated with Increased Attentional Capture by Visually Salient Distractors

  • Michael Esterman (a1) (a2), Joseph DeGutis (a1) (a3), Rogelio Mercado (a1), Andrew Rosenblatt (a1), Jennifer J. Vasterling (a1) (a2), William Milberg (a1) (a3) and Regina McGlinchey (a1) (a3)...


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