Attentional processes in individuals with mental disorders: Results from four different eye-tracking studies

19. Mai 2010

In this talk I will present results from eyetracking studies we conducted across different mental disorders including adults and children. For example, cognitive theories of anxiety disorders assume a vigilance-avoidance pattern in processing threatening information. Eye movements allow the direct and dynamic assessment of attention and may therefore be the gold standard to investigate vigilance-avoidance pattern in this type of mental disorders. I will focus on social anxiety disorder (SAD) and on body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) in this presentation. In one study, we investigated if individuals with social phobia show avoidance of facial features and contrasted this group of individuals with BDD patients. BDD individuals are in contrast assumed to show increased visual attention to facial features, particularly if they are preoccupied with a perceived flaw in the facial region. Across studies, we presented pictures of faces and included in some studies also the own face of the participant to investigate similarities and differences between individuals with social phobia and individuals with BDD in processing self-relevant stimuli. Finally, we shifted attention to children investigating if we would find the same visual attention pattern reported in adults with social phobia.

The results of these eyetracking studies will be presented. They clearly show that this method may help to further shape clinical interventions by providing helpful hints for perceptional and attentional processes in individuals with emotional difficulties which can be the target of specific intervention components to be developed based on this type of research.