Psychology ETDs

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Cognitive biases in attention to emotional stimuli in an ethnically diverse sample of dysphoric and non-dysphoric college students were explored. The present study advanced the literature by using ecologically valid eye movement data to assess attention. We hypothesized that dysphoric participants would orient their attention toward sad faces more quickly than the students without dysphoria. We also hypothesized that the dysphoric participants would sustain their attention on sad faces longer than the non-dysphoric participants. Caucasian and Latino undergraduate students were categorized into dysphoric (n = 30) and non-dysphoric (n = 36 based depressive symptom endorsement on the BDI-II (non-dysphoric: BDI-II ≤ 6, dysphoric: BDI-II \u2265 14). Eye movements were recorded with an eye-tracking device while the students viewed picture pairs of faces expressing sadness, happiness, or no emotion. The task consisted of 48 face pairs presented twice for a total of 96 trials. Consistent with the literature, dysphoric participants showed a negative bias in duration when sad faces were paired with neutral faces, but not when they were paired to happy faces. Dysphoric participants were not more likely to initially orient toward sad faces and when they did, latency was not significantly shorter to the sad face than to the other faces. Furthermore, depressive symptom scores were not associated with attentional biases for the dysphoric participants. Taken together, these findings are consistent with literature suggesting dysphoria and depression are characterized by elaboration of mood-congruent stimuli at later stages of information processing. However, the context in which the negative stimuli is presented is important. The elaboration of mood congruent stimuli was only evident in the context of a paired neutral stimuli; a paired positive stimuli did not support this elaboration effect. Additionally, symptom severity on the BDI-II did not influence the elaboration bias dysphoric participants exhibited. These findings have significant implications for the treatment and prevention of depression.

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First Advisor

Verney, Steven

First Committee Member (Chair)

Verney, Steven

Second Committee Member

Smith, Bruce

Third Committee Member

Ruthruff, Eric




Selectivity (Psychology), Depression, Face perception.

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