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The ability to flexibly shift between changing goals is crucial to develop an adaptive response to life stressors. Accordingly, lower affective attention flexibility, i.e. the ability to shift attention flexibly between goals, is associated with low reappraisal ability, high levels of rumination, and lower levels of resilience. However, attempts to manipulate affective attention flexibility with current attention training procedures have seen limited success. In the current study, we tested a novel attention flexibility training paradigm using eye-tracking, wherein dysphoric participants had to switch between different context-dependent goals. Attention towards goal-relevant emotional stimuli was reinforced using music and harsh sound. We found that participants in the training condition became significantly faster in switching attention from negative to positive goal-related stimuli pre-to post-training on an attention flexibility task, compared to the control condition. On a transfer task where participants had to give a presentation to an audience, we found that participants in the training condition displayed a more flexible pattern of attending to emotional faces during their presentation, depending upon which goal was activated. Comparatively, participants in the control condition remained rigidly attentive towards negative faces despite the goal activated. Our findings provide preliminary evidence for the role of context-based attention flexibility in dysphoria, and support scope for future clinical applications.
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1/03/19 → 31/01/26