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The temporal dynamics of attention: Thinking about oneself comes at a cost in sub-clinical depression but not in healthy participants

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Self-relevant stimuli seem to automatically draw attention, but it is unclear whether this comes at a cost for processing subsequent stimuli, and whether the effect is depending on one’s mental state (i.e. depression). To address this question, we performed two experiments. In Experiment 1, 45 participants were to report two words (T1 and T2) in an attentional blink (AB) paradigm. T1 was a personality characteristic varying in self-rated self-relevance, whereas T2 was a neutral word. A generalized linear mixed model (GLMM) was applied to compare the T1 and T2 accuracies when T1 was high or low self-relevant. A positive effect of self-relevance was found on T1, without observable carry-over effects on T2 performance. However, in Experiment 2, a GLMM applied on 93 participants showed that T1 self-relevance can affect T2, showing opposite effects depending on sub-clinical depression score. Our findings imply that people with low depression scores process self-relevant stimuli more efficiently, which is reflected in a reduced AB. In contrast, individuals with higher scores in depression demonstrated a difficulty to withdraw attention from self-relevant information, reflected in an increased AB. Our findings thus reveal that a processing advantage for highly self-relevant stimuli comes at either a subsequent cost or benefit in temporal attention depending on one’s mental disposition.

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Data Availability

All data in this study are available upon request by contact with the corresponding author, in consideration of data protection, a formal data sharing agreement is needed when the data is requested.

Code Availability

The data in this study was analyzed by custom code in matlab. It is available upon request by contact with the corresponding author.


  1. Pinyin, is the official Romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is normally written using Chinese characters. Pinyin can be used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.

  2. A-level is the highest level of the Putonghua language proficiency test, with a score of 92 or higher out of 100. The test assesses pronunciation, intonation, natural intonation and smooth expression during reading and free conversation.


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This study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31920103009), Shenzhen-Hong Kong Institute of Brain Science – Shenzhen Fundamental Research Institutions (2019SHIBS0003), Science and Technology Planning Project of Guangdong Province of China (2019A050510048), the Major Project of National Social Science Foundation (20&ZD153).

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Authors and Affiliations



Jing Wang: Conceived and designed the study; Collected the data of experiment2; Performed the data analysis; Wrote the paper; Revised the paper.

Corné Hoekstra: Collected the data of experiment1; Performed part of the data analysis; Wrote the paper.

Stefanie Enriquez-Geppert: Revised the paper critically for important intellectual content.

Yuejia Luo: Revised the paper; Funding support.

André Aleman: Revised the paper critically for important intellectual content.

Sander Martens: Conceived and designed the experiments; Revised the paper critically for important intellectual content.

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Correspondence to Yuejia Luo.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Wang, J., Hoekstra, C., Enriquez-Geppert, S. et al. The temporal dynamics of attention: Thinking about oneself comes at a cost in sub-clinical depression but not in healthy participants. Curr Psychol 42, 19561–19572 (2023).

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