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Psychiatry Res. 2014 Aug 15;218(1-2):79-86. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2014.04.002. Epub 2014 Apr 12.

Shorter gaze duration for happy faces in current but not remitted depression: evidence from eye movements.

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Stanford University, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, CA,USA; War Related Illness & Injury Study Center, Palo Alto VA Health Care System, Palo Alto, CA, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Psychiatry, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


Cognitive theories of depression propose that depressed individuals preferentially attend to negative information and that such cognitive biases constitute important vulnerability and maintenance factors for the disorder. Most studies examined this bias by registration of response latencies. The present study employed a direct and continuous measurement of attentional processing for emotional stimuli by recording eye movements. Currently depressed (CD), remitted depressed (RD) and healthy control (HC) participants viewed slides presenting sad, angry, happy and neutral facial expressions. For each expression, four components of visual attention were analyzed: first fixation, maintained fixation, relative fixation frequency and glance duration. Results showed that healthy controls were characterized by longer gaze duration for happy faces compared to currently depressed individuals but not compared to remitted depressed individuals. Both patient groups (CD, RD) demonstrated longer maintained fixation (dwelling time) on all emotional faces compared to healthy controls. The present findings are in line with the presumption that depression is associated with a loss of elaborative processing of positive stimuli that characterizes healthy controls. Importantly, successful remission of depression (RD group) may result in positive attentional processing as no group differences were found between healthy controls and remitted patients on glance duration for happy faces.


Attention; Bias; Cognition; Depression; Eye tracking; Faces; Mood

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