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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 June 2013

Michael Esterman
Affiliation:
Research Service, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston, Massachusetts Department of Psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
Joseph DeGutis
Affiliation:
Research Service, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston, Massachusetts Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
Rogelio Mercado
Affiliation:
Research Service, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston, Massachusetts
Andrew Rosenblatt
Affiliation:
Research Service, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston, Massachusetts
Jennifer J. Vasterling
Affiliation:
Research Service, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston, Massachusetts Department of Psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
William Milberg
Affiliation:
Research Service, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston, Massachusetts Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
Regina McGlinchey
Affiliation:
Research Service, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston, Massachusetts Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

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)

Type
Brief Communication
Copyright
Copyright © The International Neuropsychological Society 2013 

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