Attentional bias mediates the effect of neurostimulation on emotional vulnerability

Nigel T.M. Chen, Julian Basanovic, Lies Notebaert, Colin MacLeod, Patrick J.F. Clarke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a neuromodulatory technique which has garnered recent interest in the potential treatment for emotion-based psychopathology. While accumulating evidence suggests that tDCS may attenuate emotional vulnerability, critically, little is known about underlying mechanisms of this effect. The present study sought to clarify this by examining the possibility that tDCS may affect emotional vulnerability via its capacity to modulate attentional bias towards threatening information. Fifty healthy participants were randomly assigned to receive either anodal tDCS (2 mA/min) stimulation to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), or sham. Participants were then eye tracked during a dual-video stressor task designed to elicit emotional reactivity, while providing a concurrent in-vivo measure of attentional bias. Greater attentional bias towards threatening information was associated with greater emotional reactivity to the stressor task. Furthermore, the active tDCS group showed reduced attentional bias to threat, compared to the sham group. Importantly, attentional bias was found to statistically mediate the effect of tDCS on emotional reactivity, while no direct effect of tDCS on emotional reactivity was observed. The findings are consistent with the notion that the effect of tDCS on emotional vulnerability may be mediated by changes in attentional bias, holding implications for the application of tDCS in emotion-based psychopathology. The findings also highlight the utility of in-vivo eye tracking measures in the examination of the mechanisms associated with DLPFC neuromodulation in emotional vulnerability. © 2017 Elsevier Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-19
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017


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