Vanderbilt Addiction Center

Emotional induced attentional blink in OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a psychiatric illness that affects approximately 3% of Americans (Narrow et al., 2002), and is associated with substantial impairment (Riggs et al., 1992) and poor quality of life (Olatunji et. al., in press). Cognitive models assert that information-processing biases confer vulnerability to OCD (e.g., Rachman, 1997). For example, biases towards detecting certain types of threats may play a role in the extent to which triggering stimuli enter into consciousness. While this bias may also occur in other anxiety disorders, OCD may be more uniquely characterized by problematic disengagement, wherein the patient cannot disengage from negatively valenced stimuli. Unfortunately, techniques for assessing these information processing characteristics have often been lacking. The emotional attentional blink paradigm, which assesses the extent and duration of attentional capture by emotional stimuli, represents a novel opportunity to empirically test for abnormalities in information processing. Such a research agenda could better inform our understanding of the etiology of OCD and facilitate the specificity of cognitively informed psychological treatments. SPECIFIC AIMS: Cognitive theories propose that information-processing biases confer vulnerability to OCD (Rachman, 1997, 2002; Salkovskis, 1985). We aim to test a disengagement model of attentional bias that may be central to the etiology and maintenance of OCD. DESIGN: This new investigator initiated R03 will compare a sample of 30 patients with OCD, 30 patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and 30 nonclinical controls on the emotional induced attentional blink task. SIGNIFICANCE: The proposed study represents an initial step along a line of research clarifying the role of cognition, emotion, and disengagement in the etiology of OCD. The emotional induced `attentional blink' (a diversion of attention toward an irrelevant but salient stimuli) experimental paradigm could serve as a more reliable method for assessing the cognitive processes that have been implicated in more recent theories of the etiology of OCD. More importantly, if OCD is marked by an emotion induced attentional problems that are specifically reflected in difficulty with disengagement; this could be an important target for treatment and prevention programs and could provide a novel link between biological and cognitive models of OCD.

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