Neural Mechanisms of Spatial Attention Deficits in Trauma

Stefanie R. Russman Block, Daniel H. Weissman, Chandra Sripada, Mike Angstadt, Elizabeth R. Duval, Anthony P. King, Israel Liberzon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Survival requires effective shifting of attention from one stimulus to another as goals change. It has been consistently demonstrated that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with both faster orienting of attention toward and slower disengagement of attention from affective stimuli. Prior work, however, suggests that attention abnormalities in PTSD may extend beyond the affective domain. Methods: We used the Attention Network Test—modified to include invalid spatial cues—in conjunction with functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the neurocognitive underpinnings of visuospatial attention in participants with PTSD (n = 31) and control participants who were (n = 20) and were not (n = 21) exposed to trauma. Results: We observed deficits in the utilization of spatial information in the group with PTSD. Specifically, compared with the non-trauma-exposed group, participants with PTSD showed a smaller reaction time difference between invalidly and validly cued targets, demonstrating that they were less likely to use spatial cues to inform subsequent behavior. We also found that in both the PTSD and trauma-exposed control groups, utilization of spatial information was positively associated with activation of attentional control regions (e.g., right precentral gyrus, inferior and middle frontal gyri) and negatively associated with activation in salience processing regions (e.g., right insula). Conclusions: This pattern suggests that both trauma exposure and psychopathology may be associated with alterations of spatial attention. Overall, our findings suggest that both attention- and salience-network abnormalities may be related to altered attention in trauma-exposed populations. Treatments that target these neural networks could therefore be a new avenue for PTSD research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)991-1001
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Disengagement
  • Orienting
  • PTSD
  • Salience
  • Spatial attention
  • Trauma
  • fMRI
  • Cues
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic
  • Humans
  • Cerebral Cortex
  • Reaction Time
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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