Attentional biases in PTSD: More evidence for interference

Suzanne L. Pineles*, Jillian C. Shipherd, Sheeva M. Mostoufi, Sarah M. Abramovitz, Iftah Yovel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Scopus citations


Attentional biases to trauma-related stimuli have been widely demonstrated in individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, the majority of these studies used methods not suited to differentiating difficulty disengaging attention from threatening stimuli (interference) from facilitated detection of threat. In the current study, a visual search task (VST) with a lexical decision component was used to differentiate between attentional interference and facilitation. Forty-six sexual assault survivors with High PTSD or Low PTSD symptoms completed the VST with three types of stimuli (trauma-related, general threat-related, and semantically-related neutral words), to examine the specificity of attentional biases associated with PTSD symptoms. High PTSD participants showed increased interference to trauma-related words relative to Low PTSD participants. Furthermore, the increased attentional interference in High PTSD participants was specific to trauma-related stimuli. No evidence was found for facilitated detection of threatening stimuli in PTSD. These results provide additional support for attentional biases in PTSD relating to attentional interference with trauma-related cues rather than facilitated detection of threat. The implications for this pattern of results are discussed in relation to anxiety disorders that are characterized by rumination and/or intrusions (e.g., PTSD, GAD) rather than those more circumscribed to fight or flight response (e.g., phobias).

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1050-1057
Number of pages8
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This material is based upon work supported in part by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Clinical Sciences R&D Service, Career Development Award Program. Additional support was provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD, Women's Health Sciences Division.


  • Attention
  • Attentional biases
  • Information processing
  • PTSD
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Trauma


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