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21-12-2019 | Original Article | Uitgave 2/2020

Cognitive Therapy and Research 2/2020

Contextual Changes Influence Attention Flexibility Towards New Goals

Cognitive Therapy and Research > Uitgave 2/2020
Malvika Godara, Alvaro Sanchez-Lopez, Baptist Liefooghe, Rudi De Raedt
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The ability to flexibly process affective information underlies resilient adaptation to changing situations. However, the impact of social contextual changes on affective flexibility has not been examined yet, although this may be crucial to understand how attention operates when changing situations require allocation of different emotional goals. In a novel eye-tracking task, participants had to deploy the goals to attend to positive or negative facial expressions based on contextual cues. We found that dysphorics, compared to non-dysphorics, were faster in switching to negative goals, but slower in switching to positive goals, when the context remained constant. However, when the context changed, dysphorics showed an even faster switch to negative goals, while non-dysphorics became more adept at switching towards positive goals. These results suggest that contextual changes exacerbate the negativity and positivity biases exhibited by dysphoric and non-dysphoric individuals, respectively. The study provides evidence for the key role played by contextual changes in guiding attention allocation and thereby emotion regulation processes. These findings provide preliminary evidence for the role of contextual inflexibility in dysphoria. Results need to be replicated in a clinical sample to further clarify the role of inflexibility over the course of depression.

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