Attention biases in perfectionism: Biased disengagement of attention from emotionally negative stimuli
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© 2019 Elsevier Ltd
Background and objectives: Perfectionism is associated with the development and maintenance of several psychological disorders. Consequently, efforts to better understand perfectionism have potential transdiagnostic impact. One mechanism proposed to underlie perfectionism is an attention bias towards information signalling threats to perfectionism whereby people with elevated perfectionism selectively attend to threatening stimuli.
Method: The present study assessed whether two core dimensions of perfectionism, perfectionistic strivings and perfectionistic concerns, are characterised by a threat-related attention bias, and whether this bias was characterised by attention being more rapidly captured by the stimuli (engagement bias), or of greater difficulty to disengage attention (disengagement bias). Participants (N = 108) completed measures of perfectionistic strivings and concerns, and symptoms of psychological distress before completing a modified dot-probe task to measure attention biases. Attention bias index scores were calculated across three factors: engagement bias vs disengagement bias, perfectionism relevant vs irrelevant stimuli, and negative vs positive emotional stimuli.
Results: Overall, perfectionistic concerns were associated with a disengagement bias for negative stimuli, regardless of whether stimuli were perfectionism relevant or not. No other significant main or interaction effects were observed.
Limitations: The study was cross-sectional in design, and no temporal or causal inferences could be made. Additionally, participants were from a community sample and therefore replication is required in clinical populations.
Conclusion: These findings demonstrate that individuals higher in perfectionistic concerns experience difficulty withdrawing their attention from emotionally negative stimuli. These findings contribute new information to our theoretical understandings of perfectionism and provide support for the cognitive-behavioural model of perfectionism.
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