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Does Attentional Bias Predict Suicidal Behaviour?

Posted Aug 07 2010 7:16am
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 of a recent paper in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology 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. Study participants (124 adults presenting to a psychiatric emergency department)  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.

For the abstract .
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