Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychological Science



First Reader/Committee Chair

Ricco, Robert


As a social species, correct emotional perception is so vital, that the human brain has evolved a mechanism to control attentional choices by exerting a narrowed field of perception during danger, called the scope of attention (SoA). The SoA determines what information will be focused on or ignored by blocking the perception of non-relevant items and increasing selective focus on danger; even if danger is merely a sad-face. The emotional items blocked from perception cannot be remembered because they were never perceived. But, attention-control to emotional stimuli also varies with mood, as seen in mood-disorders. A mood-disorder’s effect upon the SoA has not been extensively studied, and no investigations examining the SoA in mood-disorders versus healthy individuals could be found in the literature. Thus, this thesis considers the question: Do mood disorders affect the SoA during emotional interactions? To investigate this, we evaluated individual differences in the SoA for those with or without mood-disorder symptomology, during visual processing of emotionally-salient stimuli. We measured the responses to emotionally-salient distracting faces near to, and far from, the target face. Results indicated that the state anxiety group identified target emotions more slowly than did healthy individuals. In addition, those with state anxiety had a comparable SoA to healthy individuals, except while viewing a sad target with sad, far away distractors. This negative environment broadened the state groups SOA, instead of narrowing it. Thus, the state anxiety group perceived an overabundance of negative emotional content from the surrounding faces. Depression and trait anxiety groups SoAs were comparable to healthy controls during sad targets, but not happy. The scope of attention for those with depression and trait anxiety narrowed when the target was a happy face and the distracting faces were in close proximity to the target. Thus, the depression and trait anxiety groups did not perceive the emotional content of the surrounding faces. These results suggest that state anxiolytics are relatively slower in responding to emotional information in a facial stimulus, but once they identify the face as happy at close range, they achieve the same, broad, scope of attention as healthy individuals. However, state anxiolytics are particularly affected when negative emotional items are experienced with, distant, negative surrounding emotions. By contrast, once depressives and trait anxiolytics identify a positive emotional expression, they are restricted in their ability to recognize contrasting or changing expressions in individuals who are in close proximity to their focus of attention. Therefore, individuals with high trait anxiety or depression have a relatively narrower SoA, restricting their perception of close-range emotional-interactions, and those with state anxiety have a relatively broader SoA, enhancing their perception of distant, negative, emotional interactions. The present findings indicate that individuals with mood disorders process emotional information differently than healthy individuals.