Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 38, Issue 5, pp 695–706 | Cite as

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

  • Brendan A. Rich
  • Melissa A. Brotman
  • Daniel P. Dickstein
  • Derek G. V. Mitchell
  • R. James R. Blair
  • Ellen Leibenluft


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.


Pediatric bipolar disorder Mood dysregulation Children Attention IAPS 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brendan A. Rich
    • 1
  • Melissa A. Brotman
    • 2
  • Daniel P. Dickstein
    • 3
  • Derek G. V. Mitchell
    • 4
  • R. James R. Blair
    • 2
  • Ellen Leibenluft
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCatholic University of AmericaWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Health and Human ServicesMood and Anxiety Disorders Program, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of HealthBethesdaUSA
  3. 3.Brown University Medical School, Child and Adolescent PsychiatryProvidenceUSA
  4. 4.Departments of Psychiatry and Anatomy & Cell BiologyUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada

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