Depression, not PTSD, is associated with attentional biases for emotional visual cues in early traumatized individuals with PTSD

Charlotte E. Wittekind*, Christoph Muhtz, Lena Jelinek, Steffen Moritz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
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Using variants of the emotional Stroop task (EST), a large number of studies demonstrated attentional biases in individuals with PTSD across different types of trauma. However, the specificity and robustness of the emotional Stroop effect in PTSD have been questioned recently. In particular, the paradigm cannot disentangle underlying cognitive mechanisms. Transgenerational studies provide evidence that consequences of trauma are not limited to the traumatized people, but extend to close relatives, especially the children. To further investigate attentional biases in PTSD and to shed light on the underlying cognitive mechanism(s), a spatial-cueing paradigm with pictures of different emotional valence (neutral, anxiety, depression, trauma) was administered to individuals displaced as children during World War II (WWII) with (n = 22) and without PTSD (n = 26) as well as to non-traumatized controls (n = 22). To assess whether parental PTSD is associated with biased information processing in children, each one adult offspring was also included in the study. PTSD was not associated with attentional biases for trauma-related stimuli. There was no evidence for a transgenerational transmission of biased information processing. However, when samples were regrouped based on current depression, a reduced inhibition of return (IOR) effect emerged for depression-related cues. IOR refers to the phenomenon that with longer intervals between cue and target the validity effect is reversed: uncued locations are associated with shorter and cued locations with longer RTs. The results diverge from EST studies and demonstrate that findings on attentional biases yield equivocal results across different paradigms. Attentional biases for trauma-related material may only appear for verbal but not for visual stimuli in an elderly population with childhood trauma with PTSD. Future studies should more closely investigate whether findings from younger trauma populations also manifest in older trauma survivors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1474
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberJAN
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2015. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • attentional bias
  • trauma
  • depression
  • bias components
  • transmission


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