Early neurocognitive changes in emotional processing are seen following SSRI administration, which may be involved in mechanisms of action. However, the perceptual processes underpinning these effects have not been specified.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled eye-tracking study, we assessed the effect of single dose of citalopram (20 mg) in 25 healthy females. Face stimuli with direct and averted gaze were presented while visual scan patterns and pupil sizes were monitored. Subjective state was monitored using visual analogue scales.
There were no significant effects of citalopram on subjective state. However, the citalopram group displayed increased saccade numbers and shorter fixation duration during face viewing compared to the placebo group. Volunteers receiving citalopram also showed reduced monitoring of the eye region irrespective of the direct or averted eye position of the stimuli. The citalopram group also showed significantly larger pupil sizes than the control group.
These results suggest that the SSRI administration affects the perceptual processing of face stimuli. The current pattern of findings is consistent with anxiogenic-like mechanisms early on in SSRI treatment. Eye-tracking provides a novel method to characterise and detect these effects.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Adams RB, Gordon HL, Baird AA, Ambady N, Kleck RE (2003) Effects of gaze on amygdala sensitivity to anger and fear faces. Science 300:1536–1536
Adolphs R, Gosselin F, Buchanan TW, Tranel D, Schyns P, Damasio AR (2005) A mechanism for impaired fear recognition after amygdala damage. Nature 433:68–72
Bradley BP, Mogg K, Millar NH (2000) Covert and overt orienting of attention to emotional faces in anxiety. Cogn Emot 14:789–808
Browning M, Reid C, Cowen PJ, Goodwin GM, Harmer CJ (2007) A single dose of citalopram increases fear recognition in healthy subjects. J Psychopharmacol 21:684–690
Buttle H (2010) Repetition blindness for faces reflects identity coding but not emotion coding. Percept Mot Skills 110:245–256
Di Simplicio M, Doallo S, Costolini G, Rohenkohl G, Nobre G, Harmer CJ (2014) Can you look me in the face? Short-term SSRI administration reverts avoidant ocular face exploration in subjects at risk for psychopathology. Neuropsychopharmacology. doi:10.1038/npp.2014.159
Dumont GJ, de Visser SJ, Cohen AF, van Gerven JM, Biomarker Working Group of the German Association for Applied Human P (2005) Biomarkers for the effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in healthy subjects. Br J Clin Pharmacol 59:495–510
George N, Driver J, Dolan RJ (2001) Seen gaze-direction modulates fusiform activity and its coupling with other brain areas during face processing. Neuroimage 13:1102–1112
Grillon C, Levenson J, Pine DS (2007) A single dose of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor citalopram exacerbates anxiety in humans: a fear-potentiated startle study. Neuropsychopharmacology 32:225–231
Grillon C, Chavis C, Covington MF, Pine DS (2009) Two-week treatment with the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor citalopram reduces contextual anxiety but not cued fear in healthy volunteers: a fear-potentiated startle study. Neuropsychopharmacology 34:964–971
Harmer CJ, Bhagwagar Z, Perrett DI, Vollm BA, Cowen PJ, Goodwin GM (2003) Acute SSRI administration affects the processing of social cues in healthy volunteers. Neuropsychopharmacology 28:148–152
Harmer CJ, Shelley NC, Cowen PJ, Goodwin GM (2004) Increased positive versus negative affective perception and memory in healthy volunteers following selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibition. Am J Psychiatry 161:1256–1263
Harmer CJ, Goodwin GM, Cowen PJ (2009) Why do antidepressants take so long to work? A cognitive neuropsychological model of antidepressant drug action. Br J Psychiatry 195:102–108
Henderson J (1992) Visual attention and eye movement control during reading and picture viewing. In: Rayner K (ed) Eye movements and visual Cognition (Springer Series in Neuropsychology). Springer, New York, pp 260–283
Holzman PS, Proctor LR, Hughes DW (1973) Eye-tracking patterns in schizophrenia. Science 181:179–181
Horley K, Williams LM, Gonsalvez C, Gordon E (2003) Social phobics do not see eye to eye: a visual scanpath study of emotional expression processing. J Anxiety Disord 17:33–34
Isaac L, Vrijsen JN, Rinck M, Speckens A, Becker ES (2014) Shorter gaze duration for happy faces in current but not remitted depression: evidence from eye movements. Psychiatry Res 218:79–86
Keers R, Aitchison KJ (2010) Gender differences in antidepressant drug response. Int Rev Psychiatr 22:485–500
Kelly DJ, Miellet S, Caldara R (2010) Culture shapes eye movements for visually homogeneous objects. Front Psychol 1:6
Laeng B, Sirois S, Gredeback G (2012) Pupillometry: a window to the preconscious? Perspect Psychol Sci 7:18–27
Laretzaki G, Plainis S, Vrettos I, Chrisoulakis A, Pallikaris I, Bitsios P (2011) Threat and trait anxiety affect stability of gaze fixation. Biol Psychol 86:330–336
Malcolm GL, Lanyon LJ, Fugard AJB, Barton JJS (2008) Scan patterns during the processing of facial expression versus identity: an exploration of task-driven and stimulus-driven effects. J Vision 8:2.1–9
Perlman SB, Morris JP, Wyk BCV, Green SR, Doyle JL, Pelphrey KA (2009) Individual differences in personality predict how people look at faces. Plos One 4: doi:10.1371/Journal.Pone.0005952
Simonsen A, Scheel-Kruger J, Jensen M, Roepstorff A, Moller A, Frith CD, Campbell-Meiklejohn D (2014) Serotoninergic effects on judgments and social learning of trustworthiness. Psychopharmacology. doi:10.1007/s00213-014-3444-2
Stahl SM (2010) Enhancing outcomes from major depression: using antidepressant combination therapies with multifunctional pharmacologic mechanisms from the initiation of treatment. CNS Spectrums 15:79–94
Walker-Smith GJ, Gale AG, Findlay JM (2013) Eye movement strategies involved in face perception. Perception 42:1120–1133
Wells TT, Clerkin EM, Ellis AJ, Beevers CG (2014) Effect of antidepressant medication use on emotional information processing in major depression. Am J Psychiatry 171:195–200
Whalen PJ, Kagan J, Cook RG, Davis FC, Kim H, Polis S, McLaren DG, Somerville LH, McLean AA, Maxwell JS, Johnstone T (2004) Human amygdala responsivity to masked fearful eye whites. Science 306:2061–2061
The data acquisition for this project was aided by the invaluable contributions from PSYC2102, Group 5, Spring 2013.
The project was not supported by any external grants. CJH is a director of Oxford Psychologists and has received consultancy payments from Lundbeck, Lilly, Seriver and P1vital over the last 3 years. She holds shares in P1vital.
The manuscript meets the guidelines for ethical conduct and report of research www.elsevier.com/wps/find/authorsview.authors/rights.
Conflict of interest
The authors report no direct conflict of interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Jonassen, R., Chelnokova, O., Harmer, C. et al. A single dose of antidepressant alters eye-gaze patterns across face stimuli in healthy women. Psychopharmacology 232, 953–958 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-014-3729-5
- Eye movement