Psychological, endocrine, and neural correlates of attentional bias in subclinical depression

Anxiety Stress Coping. 2016 Sep;29(5):479-96. doi: 10.1080/10615806.2015.1101457. Epub 2015 Oct 29.


Background: Our knowledge with respect to psychological, endocrine, and neural correlates of attentional bias in individuals with high vulnerability to developing depression - the subclinically depressed, still remains limited.

Design: The study used a 2 × 2 mixed design.

Methods: Attentional bias toward happy and sad faces in healthy (N = 26) and subclinically depressed individuals (N = 22) was assessed via a neuroimaging dot-probe attention task. Participants also completed trait and state psychological measures and provided saliva samples for cortisol analysis.

Results: The subclinical group showed attentional bias toward happy faces; past use of problem-focused coping strategies when dealing with a personally relevant stressor as well as state levels of anxiety, together, contributed to this bias. In the control group, the happy attentional bias was positively correlated with activity in the right caudate. In the subclinical group, the bias was negatively associated with the left fusiform gyrus and positively with the left inferior parietal lobule and bilateral putamen. We observed group differences in association between cortisol levels during the task and neural activity during happy attentional bias processing within the key regions involved in attention.

Conclusions: The attentional bias toward happy faces may reflect an active coping attempt by the subclinical participants.

Keywords: Attentional bias; coping; cortisol; fMRI; subclinical depression.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology
  • Adult
  • Attentional Bias / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder / metabolism*
  • Depressive Disorder / physiopathology
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Face
  • Female
  • Happiness
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone