Attentional bias and attentional control in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

J Anxiety Disord. 2014 Mar;28(2):203-10. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2013.10.001. Epub 2013 Oct 29.


Extensive evidence exists for an association between attentional bias (AB; attentional vigilance or avoidance) and anxiety. Recent studies in healthy participants suggest that attentional control (AC) may facilitate inhibition of automatic attentional processes associated with anxiety. To investigate relationships among AC, trauma-related AB, symptom severity and trait anxiety in patients with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), participants (N = 91) completed self-report measures of AC, posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) and trait anxiety. AB was measured with a pictorial version of the Dot Probe Test. AC moderated the relationship between PTSS and AB (threat avoidance). Patients high in PTSS and low in AC showed attentional avoidance. No association between PTSS and AB in patients with medium or high levels of AC was found. A similar pattern of results was observed for the relationship between trait anxiety, AC and AB. These results suggest that a low ability to control attention is a risk factor for AB in PTSD. This first clinical study corroborates the accumulating evidence from analog studies that individual differences in top-down attentional control are of considerable importance in the expression of AB in anxious psychopathology.

Keywords: ACS; Anxiety; Attentional bias; Attentional control; Dot probe; Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Report
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Young Adult