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Attentional biases for angry faces in unipolar depression


Background. Past research has demonstrated that depression is associated with dysfunctional processing of emotional information. Recent studies demonstrate that a bias in the attentional processing of negative information may be an important cognitive vulnerability factor underlying the onset and maintenance of depression. However, to date, the nature of this attentional bias is still poorly understood and further exploration of this topic to advance current knowledge of attentional biases in depression seems imperative.

Method. This study examined attentional biases for angry facial expressions presented for 1000 ms in 20 patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) and 20 non-depressed control participants (NC) matched for age and gender using an emotional modification of the Exogenous Cueing task.

Results. Patients with MDD showed maintained attention for angry faces compared with neutral faces. In comparison with non-depressed participants they showed a stronger attentional engagement for angry faces. In contrast, the NC group directed attention away from angry faces, more rapidly disengaging their attention compared with neutral faces.

Conclusions. This pattern of results supports the assumption that MDD is characterized by deficits in the attentional processing of negative, interpersonal information and suggests a ‘protective’ bias in non-depressed individuals. Implications in relation to previous research exploring cognitive and interpersonal functioning in depression are discussed.

Corresponding author
Department of Psychology, Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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