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J Abnorm Psychol. 2010 Aug;119(3):616-22. doi: 10.1037/a0019710.

Attentional bias toward suicide-related stimuli predicts suicidal behavior.

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Department of Psychology, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland Street, 1280, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.

Erratum in

  • J Abnorm Psychol. 2010 Nov;119(4):874.


A long-standing challenge for scientific and clinical work on suicidal behavior is that people often are motivated to deny or conceal suicidal thoughts. The authors proposed that people considering suicide would possess an objectively measurable attentional bias toward suicide-related stimuli and that this bias would predict future suicidal behavior. Participants were 124 adults presenting to a psychiatric emergency department who were administered a modified emotional Stroop task and followed for 6 months. Suicide attempters showed an attentional bias toward suicide-related words relative to neutral words, and this bias was strongest among those who had made a more recent attempt. Importantly, this suicide-specific attentional bias predicted which people made a suicide attempt over the next 6 months, above and beyond other clinical predictors. Attentional bias toward more general negatively valenced words did not predict any suicide-related outcomes, supporting the specificity of the observed effect. These results suggest that suicide-specific attentional bias can serve as a behavioral marker for suicidal risk, and ultimately improve scientific and clinical work on suicide-related outcomes.

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