Category: Cognitive Science / Cognitive Processes
Cognitive Resilience and Attention to Emotional Stimuli
Lucas J.A. Kelberer, M.S., Morganne A. Kraines, M.S., and Tony T. Wells, Ph.D.
Oklahoma State University
Attention biases for emotional information can influence people to experience different emotions with greater intensity and frequency, which can in turn increase one’s susceptibility to psychological distress (Gotlib, Krasnoperova, Yue, & Joormann, 2004; Oehlberg, Revelle, & Minka, 2012). Cognitive resilience factors (e.g. hope, optimism, flourishing) demonstrate buffering effects for mental health, as they are associated with lower levels of negative affect, anxiety, and depressive symptoms (Curry et al., 1997; Faulk, Gloria, & Steinhardt, 2013). While there is information suggesting that trait happiness is associated with attention for positive information (Raila, Scholl, & Gruber, 2015), there is little information regarding how specific resilience factors are associated with attention. Accordingly, this study evaluates how hope, optimism, and flourishing are related to attention for emotional information.
For this study, 107 college student participants completed measures assessing for hope, optimism, flourishing, depression symptoms, and anxiety symptoms. They also completed an eye-tracking task in order to measure attention for emotional information. Four different types of emotional stimuli were presented during each trial in the eye-tracking task: positive, dysphoric, threatening, and neutral. Total visit duration was calculated for each of the emotional stimuli across 10, 30-second trials.
In the current study, optimism (r = -.197, p = .047), hope (r = -.260, p = .010), and flourishing (r = -.216, p = .029) were all negatively correlated with time attending to dysphoric information. Hope (r = -.214, p = .035) and flourishing (r = -.237, p = .017) were both negatively associated with attention to threatening information, but optimism was not (r = -.151, p = .131). Flourishing was the only resilience factors positively correlated with attention for positive information (r = .24, p = .015). Importantly, these relationships remained statistically significant even when controlling for symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Results from this study indicate that elevated levels of hope, optimism, and flourishing are associated with less time attending to negative information. Only flourishing was associated with increased attention for positive information. While the data are correlational, these findings suggest a potential mechanism by which cognitive resilience buffers against the experience of psychological distress. Furthermore, the effect appears to be independent of symptoms of depression and anxiety, which suggest that resilience factors and symptoms of emotional disorders may independently affect attention for emotional information.
Lucas Kelberer– Clinical Psychology Graduate Student, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma
Morganne Kraines– Doctoral Candidate, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma
Tony Wells– Assistant Professor, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma
Clinical Psychology Graduate Student
Oklahoma State University