Obsessive-compulsive symptoms and attentional bias: An eye-tracking methodology

Maria C. Bradley, Donncha Hanna, Paul Wilson, Gareth Scott, Paul Quinn, Kevin F. W. Dyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
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Background and objectives: Cognitive models suggest that attentional biases are integral in the maintenance of obsessive-compulsive symptoms (OCS). Such biases have been established experimentally in anxiety disorders; however, the evidence is unclear in Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD). In the present study, an eye-tracking methodology was employed to explore attentional biases in relation to OCS.
Methods: A convenience sample of 85 community volunteers was assessed on OCS using the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale-self report. Participants completed an eye-tracking paradigm where they were exposed to OCD, Aversive and Neutral visual stimuli. Indices of attentional bias were derived from the eye-tracking data.
Results: Simple linear regressions were performed with OCS severity as the predictor and eye-tracking measures of the different attentional biases for each of the three stimuli types were the criterion variables. Findings revealed that OCS severity moderately predicted greater frequency and duration of fixations on OCD stimuli, which reflect the maintenance attentional bias. No significant results were found in support of other biases.
Limitations: Interpretations based on a non-clinical sample limit the generalisability of the conclusions, although use of such samples in OCD research has been found to be comparable to clinical populations. Future research would include both clinical and sub-clinical participants.
Conclusions: Results provide some support for the theory of maintained attention in OCD attentional biases, as opposed to vigilance theory. Individuals with greater OCS do not orient to OCD stimuli any faster than individuals with lower OCS, but once a threat is identified, these individuals allocate more attention to OCS-relevant stimuli.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-308
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Early online date30 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • OCD
  • Attentional bias
  • Eye-tracking
  • Anxiety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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