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J Anxiety Disord. 2010 Apr;24(3):293-9. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2009.12.006. Epub 2010 Jan 7.

Eye tracking and visual attention to threating stimuli in veterans of the Iraq war.

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  • 1Middlebury College, Department of Psychology, Middlebury, VT 05753, USA.


Theoretical and clinical characterizations of attention in PTSD acknowledge the possibility for both hypervigilance and avoidance of trauma-relevant stimuli. This study used eye tracking technology to investigate visual orientation and attention to traumatic and neutral stimuli in nineteen veterans of the Iraq war. Veterans saw slides in which half the screen had a negatively valenced image and half had a neutral image. Negatively valenced stimuli were further divided into stimuli that varied in trauma relevance (either Iraq war or civilian motor vehicle accidents). Veterans reporting relatively higher levels of PSTD symptoms had larger pupils to all negatively valenced pictures and spent more time looking at them than did veterans lower in PTSD symptoms. Veterans higher in PTSD symptoms also showed a trend towards looking first at Iraq images. The findings suggest that post-traumatic pathology is associated with vigilance rather than avoidance when visually processing negatively valenced and trauma-relevant stimuli.

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