Neutral face distractors differentiate performance between depressed and healthy adolescents during an emotional working memory task

Lucy R. Tavitian, Cecile D. Ladouceur, Ziad Nahas, Beatrice Khater, David A. Brent, Fadi T. Maalouf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations

Abstract

The aim of the present study is to examine the effect of neutral and emotional facial expressions on voluntary attentional control using a working memory (WM) task in adolescents with major depressive disorder (MDD). We administered the Emotional Face n-back (EFNBACK) task, a visual WM task with neutral, happy and angry faces as distractors to 22 adolescents with MDD (mean age 15.7 years) and 21 healthy controls (HC) (mean age 14.7 years). There was a significant group by distractor type interaction (p = 0.045) for mean percent accuracy rates. Group comparisons showed that MDD youth were less accurate on neutral trials than HC (p = 0.027). The two groups did not differ on angry, happy and blank trials (p > 0.05). Reaction time did not differ across groups. In addition, when comparing the differences between accuracies on neutral trials and each of the happy and angry trials, respectively [(HAP-NEUT) and (ANG-NEUT)], there was a group effect on (HAP-NEUT) where the difference was larger in MDD than HC (p = 0.009) but not on ANG-NEUT (p > 0.05). Findings were independent of memory load. Findings indicate that attentional control to neutral faces is impaired and negatively affected performance on a WM task in adolescents with MDD. Such an impact of neutral faces on attentional control in MDD may be at the core of the social-cognitive impairment observed in this population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)659-667
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Volume23
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2014

Keywords

  • Adolescent
  • Attentional control
  • Depression
  • Emotion processing
  • Emotional distracters

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