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Impaired distractor inhibition on a selective attention task in unmedicated, depressed subjects

  • G. M. MacQUEEN (a1), S. P. TIPPER (a1), L. T. YOUNG (a1), R. T. JOFFE (a1) and A. J. LEVITT (a1)...


Background. Impaired distractor inhibition may contribute to the selective attention deficits observed in depressed patients, but studies to date have not tested the distractor inhibition theory against the possibility that processes such as transient memory review processes may account for the observed deficits. A negative priming paradigm can dissociate inhibition from such a potentially confounding process called object review. The negative priming task also isolates features of the distractor such as colour and location for independent examination.

Method. A computerized negative priming task was used in which colour, identification and location features of a stimulus and distractor were systematically manipulated across successive prime and probe trials. Thirty-two unmedicated subjects with DSM-IV diagnoses of non-psychotic unipolar depression were compared with 32 age, sex and IQ matched controls.

Results. Depressed subjects had reduced levels of negative priming for conditions where the colour feature of the stimulus was repeated across prime and probe trials but not when identity or location was the repeated feature. When both the colour and location feature were the repeated feature across trials, facilitation in response was apparent.

Conclusions. The pattern of results supports studies that found reduced distractor inhibition in depressed subjects, and suggests that object review is intact in these subjects. Greater impairment in negative priming for colour versus location suggests that subjects may have greater impairment in the visual stream associated with processing colour features.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Dr Glenda M. MacQueen, Department of Psychiatry, and Behavioral Sciences, 4N77A, McMaster University Medical Centre, 1200 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8N 3Z5.


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