Attentional Bias to Threat Following Acquired Brain Injury: An Exploratory Experimental Study.

Liam Gilligan, Fergus Gracey, Margarita Ononaiye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objective: Experimental evidence indicates that those with emotional disorders show an attentional bias for specific threat relevant information. This study explored whether those with an acquired brain injury (ABI) demonstrate an attentional bias towards threat (negative social evaluation or physical threat), and what factors may influence this bias. Method: 35 participants (6 female; mean age 45 years) who had sustained an ABI (69% TBI; >6 months post injury) completed a visual dot-probe task, alongside measures of self-discrepancy, affective distress and executive functioning. Results: The pattern of results was consistent with that found in emotional disorders, showing faster response times to threat versus neutral stimuli. However effect sizes were small-to-medium and marginally non-significant [F (2.70, 81.00) = 2.75, p = .053, p2 = .084], dropping further when executive functioning was controlled for in the analysis [F ( 2.70, 81.00) = 1.46, p = .234, p2 = .046]. Exploratory analyses of the interaction between distress and attentional bias also failed to reach significance [F (2.74, 30) = 1.332; p = .262; p2 = .043], although the pattern of results was consistent with that hypothesised. Correlations of pre-injury/current and current/ideal self-discrepancy with anxiety and depression were all significant, with the strongest correlation between current/ideal self-discrepancy and depression [r=.71, n = 34, p < .001]. The predicted correlation between self-discrepancy and attentional bias to negative evaluation stimuli was not found [r = -.252, n = 32, p = .165]. Conclusions: The hypotheses were not supported in this study despite trends in the data consistent with study hypotheses. A key limitation of the study is sample size given the effect sizes detected. The study provides a tentative basis for further exploration of attentional bias to threat following brain injury, particularly focusing on executive functioning as a possible factor.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology
Publication statusSubmitted - 10 Dec 2017


  • Brain Injuries
  • Executive Function
  • Attention
  • Emotion
  • Self concept

Cite this