Selective attention to negative stimuli has been discussed as being an essential characteristic of depressive disorder. Theories and empirical data, however, are contradictory. The present study addressed the question of whether depressive patients selectively attend to negatively valenced and personally relevant or irrelevant stimuli and whether they habituate to these stimuli. Thirty-one inpatients with major depressive disorder and 37 healthy controls participated in the study. They underwent a modification of the emotional Stroop paradigm. The results indicated that personally relevant stimuli evoked more pronounced Stroop interference than did stimuli without personal relevance in all subjects. Furthermore, habituation to personally relevant negative stimuli was seen in both depressive patients and control subjects. The present findings question a generally negative attentional bias as being a specific characteristic of depressive disorder. Furthermore, as depressed patients habituated to personally relevant negative stimuli, exposure therapy might be suitable for the treatment of depressive disorder.
*Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy Bethel, Ev. Hospital Bielefeld, Bielefeld; †Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, University Hospital Duisburg-Essen, Essen; ‡University of Bielefeld, Bielefeld; §Luebeck School of Medicine, Luebeck; and ∥Department of Psychiatry, Charité University Berlin, Campus Benjamin Franklin, Berlin, Germany.
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