Attentional Disengagement Predicts Stress Recovery in Depression: An Eye-Tracking Study

Alvaro Sanchez and Carmelo Vazquez. Complutense University of Madrid

Craig Marker, Joelle LeMoult, and Jutta Joormann. University of Miami

Previous research has made significant progress elucidating the nature of cognitive biases in emotional disorders. However, less work has focused on the relation among cognitive biases and emotional responding in clinical samples. This study uses eye-tracking to examine difficulties disengaging attention from emotional material in depressed participants and to test its relation with mood reactivity and recovery during and after a stress induction. Participants diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and never-disordered control participants (CTL) completed a novel eye-tracking paradigm in which participants had to disengage their attention from emotional material to attend to a neutral stimulus. Time to disengage attention was computed using a direct recording of eye movements. Participants then completed a stress induction and mood reactivity and recovery were assessed. MDD compared with CTL participants took significantly longer to disengage from depression-related stimuli (i.e., sad faces). Individual differences in disengagement predicted lower recovery from sad mood in response to the stress induction in the MDD group. These results suggest that difficulties in attentional disengagement may contribute to the sustained negative affect that characterizes depressive disorders.