One of the most common symptoms of depression is the tendency to attend to negative stimuli in the world and negative thoughts in mind. This symptom is especially nefarious because it is also a cause — biasing processing to negatively valenced information, thus worsening mood, and exacerbating the condition. Here we attempt to systematize the diverse body of recent research on the negative attentional bias from across cognitive and clinical psychology in order to identify recurring themes and devise potential mechanistic explanations. We leverage theoretical progress in our understanding of healthy attention systems in terms of internal versus external components. With this lens, we review approaches to training attention that might reduce the negative attentional bias, including behavioral interventions and real-time neurofeedback. Although extant findings are somewhat mixed, these approaches provide hope and clues for the next generation of treatments.
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