Category: Suicide and Self-Injury
Suicide is the second leading cause of death of 10-34 year olds in the United States, and individuals who have made a suicide attempt (SA) in the past are at increased risk for future SAs and death by suicide. Given this, it is important to identify objective factors that may help identify individuals at risk for future SA. One potentially important factor is attention to emotional stimuli. Although the specific relation between suicidality and attention to emotional stimuli has not been established, past research indicates that individuals with a history of SA may have deficits in attentional control. Accordingly, the purpose of the present study was to examine attentional biases to emotional faces in women with a history of SA. We hypothesized that, compared to women with no history of SA, women with such a history would display greater sustained attention to sad faces than to other emotional faces. We also examined whether this relation would be at least partially independent of women’s current symptoms of depression and anxiety. Participants were 63 women (21 with SA, age 24-64, 85.7% Caucasian) recruited from the community as part of a larger study. Participants’ attentional biases to facial displays of emotion were assessed using a passive viewing task during which women were shown angry, happy, sad, and neutral faces. Each trial was divided into 4-s epochs (5 total) so that changes in attentional allocation across the duration of each trial could be assessed. We conducted a 2 (SA history: yes, no) × 4 (Emotion: neutral, happy, sad, angry) × 5 (Epoch: 1-5) repeated measures ANOVA with women’s gaze time to each emotion within each epoch serving as the dependent variable. The three-way interaction was significant, F(12, 696) = 1.94, p < .05, ηp2 = .03. To determine the form of this interaction, we examined the SA × Emotion interaction separately in each of the five epochs. We found a significant SA × Emotion interaction during the first epoch F(3, 174) = 4.38, p < .01, ηp2 = .07, but not in any of the other epochs (lowest p =.20). Examining this interaction further, we found significant group differences in attention to sad faces during the first epoch, F(1, 59) = 20.22, p < .001, ηp2 = .26, with suicide attempters attending to sad faces longer (M = .24, SE = .01) than those without a history of SA, (M = .18, SE = .01). The effect was maintained when we included depression and anxiety symptoms as covariates, F(1, 56) = 17.03, p < .001, ηp2 = .23, suggesting that the difference is at least partially independent of current symptom levels. These findings suggest that individuals at risk for future SA may be more accurately identified through tasks that determine the presence of attentional biases, particularly to sad stimuli.
Kiera James– Graduate Student, Binghamton University
Max Owens– University of South Florida St. Petersburg
Anastacia Kudinova– Graduate Student, Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York
Brandon Gibb– Professor of Psychology and Director of Clinical Training, Binghamton University (SUNY), Binghamton, New York