"MAKING SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING: NEUTRAL CONTENT MODULATES ATTENTION IN GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER"
This week's paper is by Bunmi O. Olatunji, Ph.D., Bethany G. Ciesielski, B.A., Thomas Armstrong, M.A., Mimi Zhao, and David H. Zald, Ph.D., and addresses the Emotional Attentional Blink in subjects with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It's part of a short series of papers by Dr. Olatunji that covers the EAB in subjects with several different psychological disorders.
Summary: This paper used a typical Emotional Attentional Blink paradigm: an RSVP stream with a single target and an emotional distractor at the start. The experimenters had two experimental groups: subjects with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and a comparable control group. Each performed the task, and performances were compared. The GAD group was significantly less accurate after fear distractors and neutral distractors (and generally less accurate), but did not performed significantly different when erotic distractors and disgust distractors were presented. Interestingly enough, all four distractors had significantly different effects upon performance on the task.
The experimenters theorize that the differences between the groups are a function of the differences in attentional processes of the two groups. The deficit in performance for neutral distractors may be the result of subjects with GAD appraising the neutral distractors as more emotionally salient than the control group. This means that the GAD group would have had issues disengaging their attention from the distractor, leading to a larger EAB. Of course, fear distractors are more salient to anxious individuals; therefore, it makes sense that the EAB is larger for these individuals as a result. Of course, the issue of erotic and disgust images not being significantly different is slightly puzzling. This, the experimenters theorize, may demonstrate that subjects with GAD are more concerned with ambiguous and fear-related stimuli, and don't necessarily prioritize disgust and erotic images differently from the control group.
The Take-Away: The Emotional Attentional Blink is different for individuals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, most likely as a result of differences in attentional processes.
My Thoughts: It's a rock-solid paper. They really don't leave much to interpretation; Dr. Olatunji is great about that, from what I've encountered in his papers. Really, the interesting speculation stems from the paper's theories as to why individuals with GAD demonstrate attentional deficits in the EAB paradigm. If the deficit actually is the result of an inability to disengage attentional resources due to worry about the target's emotional salience, then there should be a spectrum of performance related to the ability of individuals to disengage their attention from emotional targets. In other words, it should be possible to demonstrate these results in a healthy population based upon their ability to disengage attention. A simple task to test attentional control, paired with the EAB paradigm, should demonstrate this. A greater ability to disengage attentional resources should correlate to a smaller EAB.
We'll be covering Dr. Olatunji's very similar paper on the EAB in subjects with OCD next week, so make sure you check back in!