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A Specific Attentional Bias in Suicide Attempters


The Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease: December 1999 - Volume 187 - Issue 12 - p 730-735

Selective attention in patients after an attempted suicide was investigated to find out whether a specific attentional bias for suicide-related materials exists and to clarify the possible role of emotions in the bias. Thirty-one patients who had previously attempted to commit suicide and 31 control participants took part in a modified Stroop task. The suicidal patients took significantly longer to name the colors of suicide-related words compared with other words, whereas color naming times of the control participants did not differ for suicide-related, neutral, positive, or negative words. Therefore, the attentional bias exhibited by suicidal patients was highly specific. There was no relation between the bias and measures of anxiety, depression, or hopelessness, whereas suicidal ideation correlated significantly with the attentional bias.

1 Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, TU Dresden, D-01062 Dresden, Federal Republic of Germany. Send reprint requests to Dr. Becker

2 Department of General Psychology, TU Dresden, D-01062 Dresden, Federal Republic of Germany.

We thank Prof. Dr. Felber for allowing us to recruit the participants in his clinic and Dr. Israel for supporting our study at the outpatient clinic. Furthermore, both of them gave us valuable advice. In addition, we thank all nurses and psychiatrists at the University Clinic of Psychiatry who helped us in recruiting and motivating participants. We are also grateful to the anonymous reviewers who gave valuable comments on earlier versions of this paper.

© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.