Impact of Emotionally Negative Information on Attentional Processes in Normal Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease


Impairments of emotional attention have been reported in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In this study, we hypothesized that patients with AD might show a deficit of orientation toward emotional information under conditions of visual search. Eighteen patients with AD, 24 age-matched controls, and 35 young controls were eye-tracked while they performed a visual search task on a computer screen. The target was a vehicle with implicit (negative or neutral) emotional content, presented concurrently with 1, 3, or 5 non-vehicle neutral distractors. The task was to find the target and to report whether a break in the target frame was on the left or on the right side. Both control groups detected negative targets more efficiently than they detected neutral targets, showing facilitated engagement toward negative information. In contrast, patients with AD showed no influence of emotional information on engagement processes. However, all groups reported the frame break location more slowly for negative than for neutral targets (after accounting for the last fixation delay), showing a more difficult disengagement from negative information. These findings are the first to highlight a selective lack of emotional influence on engagement processes in patients with AD.

Brain and Cognition