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Keywords:

  • attention bias;
  • anxiety;
  • combat exposure;
  • difference scores;
  • polynomial regression;
  • PTSD

Background

Recent studies suggest that assessment of threat-related attention bias may be useful in identifying soldiers at risk for clinical symptoms. The present study assessed the degree to which soldiers experienced combat events and showed attentional threat avoidance affected their reported levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety symptoms.

Methods

Four months after a combat deployment to Iraq, 63 US soldiers completed a survey assessing combat exposures and clinical symptoms as well as a dot-probe task assessing threat-related attention bias.

Results

Significant three-way interactions regressing threat reaction times (RTs), neutral RTs, and combat exposure on PTSD and anxiety symptoms were observed. Specifically, soldiers with high levels of combat exposure, who were more likely to demonstrate attentional bias away from threat, were also more symptomatic.

Conclusion

These results demonstrate the potential of threat-related attention bias as a behavioral marker of PTSD and anxiety symptoms in a high-risk military occupational context.