Attention bias in earthquake-exposed survivors: an event-related potential study

Int J Psychophysiol. 2014 Dec;94(3):358-64. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2014.09.004. Epub 2014 Sep 16.


The Chinese Wenchuan earthquake, which happened on the 28th of May in 2008, may leave deep invisible scars in individuals. China has a large number of children and adolescents, who tend to be most vulnerable because they are in an early stage of human development and possible post-traumatic psychological distress may have a life-long consequence. Trauma survivors without post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have received little attention in previous studies, especially in event-related potential (ERP) studies. We compared the attention bias to threat stimuli between the earthquake-exposed group and the control group in a masked version of the dot probe task. The target probe presented at the same space location consistent with earthquake-related words was the congruent trial, while in the space location of neutral words was the incongruent trial. Thirteen earthquake-exposed middle school students without PTSD and 13 matched controls were included in this investigation. The earthquake-exposed group showed significantly faster RTs to congruent trials than to incongruent trials. The earthquake-exposed group produced significantly shorter C1 and P1 latencies and larger C1, P1 and P2 amplitudes than the control group. In particular, enhanced P1 amplitude to threat stimuli was observed in the earthquake-exposed group. These findings are in agreement with the prediction that earthquake-exposed survivors have an attention bias to threat stimuli. The traumatic event had a much greater effect on earthquake-exposed survivors even if they showed no PTSD symptoms than individuals in the controls. These results will provide neurobiological evidences for effective intervention and prevention to post-traumatic mental problems.

Keywords: Attention bias; ERPs; Earthquake-exposed survivors.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Earthquakes*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Survivors / psychology*