, Volume 38, Issue 5, pp 695-706
Date: 24 Feb 2010

Deficits in Attention to Emotional Stimuli Distinguish Youth with Severe Mood Dysregulation from Youth with Bipolar Disorder

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Studying attention in the context of emotional stimuli may aid in differentiating pediatric bipolar disorder (BD) from severe mood dysregulation (SMD). SMD is characterized by chronic irritability, arousal, and hyper-reactivity; SMD youth frequently receive a BD diagnosis although they do not meet DSM-IV criteria for BD because they lack manic episodes. We compared 57 BD (14.4 ± 2.9 years old, 56% male), 41 SMD (12.6 ± 2.6 years old, 66% male), and 33 control subjects (13.7 ± 2.5 years old, 52% male) using the Emotional Interrupt task, which examines how attention is impacted by positive, negative, or neutral distracters. We compared reaction time (RT) and accuracy and calculated attention interference scores by subtracting performance on neutral trials from emotional trials. Between-group analyses indicated that SMD subjects had significantly reduced attention interference from emotional distracters relative to BD and control subjects. Thus, attention in SMD youth was not modulated by emotional stimuli. This blunted response in SMD youth may contribute to their affective and behavioral dysregulation.