Date Published: March 31, 2017
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Alvaro Sanchez, Nuria Romero, Rudi De Raedt, Philip Allen.
The present study aimed to clarify: 1) the presence of depression-related attention bias related to a social stressor, 2) its association with depression-related attention biases as measured under standard conditions, and 3) their association with impaired stress recovery in depression. A sample of 39 participants reporting a broad range of depression levels completed a standard eye-tracking paradigm in which they had to engage/disengage their gaze with/from emotional faces. Participants then underwent a stress induction (i.e., giving a speech), in which their eye movements to false emotional feedback were measured, and stress reactivity and recovery were assessed. Depression level was associated with longer times to engage/disengage attention with/from negative faces under standard conditions and with sustained attention to negative feedback during the speech. These depression-related biases were associated and mediated the association between depression level and self-reported stress recovery, predicting lower recovery from stress after giving the speech.
According to cognitive models [1–3], depression is caused and maintained by biases in the processing of emotional information. A wealth of empirical research has provided evidence for depression-related emotional biases in visual attention processes. Former studies using attention allocation paradigms, such as the dot-probe task  or the spatial cueing task  have found that depressed people tend to allocate attention disproportionally more to negative compared with positive or neutral material (i.e., self-descriptive adjectives, facial expressions), but only under conditions of long stimuli exposures (see [6, 7]). These results led to speculate that depressed individuals may not direct their attention to negative information more quickly than do control participants, but once it captures their attention they may exhibit difficulties disengaging from it (e.g., ). In recent research, eye-tracking technology has been used to delineate the time course and components of attention biases in depression, showing that, relative to controls, depressed individuals show an increased maintenance of gaze on negative stimuli when they are attended (see ).
Attention biases during natural viewing of social information (i.e., sustained attention to negative faces as the result of difficulties disengaging from them  are thought to be key aspects in depression development and maintenance . However, little is known on the specific conditions where such mechanisms operate (e.g., whether these depression-related attention biases emerge under socially stressful situations, such as giving a speech). The present study was aimed to clarify: 1) the presence of depression-related attention bias related to a social stressor, 2) its association with depression-related difficulties disengaging attention from negative faces as measured under standard conditions, and 3) the association of these maladaptive attention processes with stress reactivity and recovery.