Altered negative unconscious processing in major depressive disorder: An exploratory neuropsychological study

Zhi Yang, Jinping Zhao, Yi Jiang, Chunbo Li, Jijun Wang, Xuchu Weng, Georg Northoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Major depressive disorder (MDD) has been characterized by abnormalities in emotional processing. However, what remains unclear is whether MDD also shows deficits in the unconscious processing of either positive or negative emotions. We conducted a psychological study in healthy and MDD subjects to investigate unconscious emotion processing and its valence-specific alterations in MDD patients. Methods: We combined a well established paradigm for unconscious visual processing, the continuous flash suppression, with positive and negative emotional valences to detect the attentional preference evoked by the invisible emotional facial expressions. Results: Healthy subjects showed an attentional bias for negative emotions in the unconscious condition while this valence bias remained absent in MDD patients. In contrast, this attentional bias diminished in the conscious condition for both healthy subjects and MDD. Conclusion: Our findings demonstrate for the first time valence-specific deficits specifically in the unconscious processing of emotions in MDD; this may have major implications for subsequent neurobiological investigations as well as for clinical diagnosis and therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere21881
JournalPLoS One
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)

Cite this