Attention to threat in PTSD as indexed by eye-tracking indices: a systematic review
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event that was either witnessed or experienced. Patients often suffer from a heightened attention bias, which may lead to perceiving benign stimuli, for example, visual/auditory cues that vaguely resemble the original trauma stimulus, as threatening, and therefore experiencing symptoms such as severe emotional distress or physical reactions. Evaluation of attentional bias relies on methods that require verbal or motor responses, which may be challenging to measure accurately.
Research over the past ten years, reviewed by Lazarov et al., 2018 (1), brings evidence for eye-tracking tasks as an objective and direct measure of attentional bias without the need for verbal or motor responses. This review summarizing findings from several eye-tracking studies in PTSD patients finds a) an increased number of fixations or prolonged fixation time, and b) pupil dilation, in response to threatening stimuli. The results suggest that sustained attention to threatening stimuli can be objectively measured using eye-tracking. Potential treatments may use these accurate and objective measurements in modifying attentional processes and reducing sustained attention to threat.
To learn more about eye-tracking methods contact Neurolign at 1-800-895-7405.