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New techniques to prevent depression

Research awardPsyIMPACT programme

Funding period2016 - 2019

InstitutionUniversity of Ghent



Can new techniques to train attention stop depression from coming back?

The project

Research has already shown the links between attention and depression. When attention is more easily drawn towards negative information this can cause negative mood, make it harder to control emotions and increase reactions to stress.  

So Ernst Koster and his team at Ghent University are building on this knowledge and exploring new ways to train attention of people who’ve experienced depression.

The team at Ghent University. 

The process

This project is the latest in a series of studies by Ernst and his team based on eye-tracking techniques. Participants watch scrambled sentences on a screen (“life my is hell a party”) and need to unscramble these as fast as possible while the amount of time they spend looking at the negative and positive words is recorded. 

In this study, participants with experience of depression will see a series of positive and negative sentences related to their own emotions. They are encouraged to generate positive sentences and see instant feedback whether they focus on the right information (positive words) to do so.

In a previous test, participants focused more on the positive words as a result of this feedback – and people’s ability to manage their emotions improved.

Now the team want to see if this eye-tracking technology can have a similar effect on people with mental health problems – improving attention and decreasing the symptoms of depression.

The potential

Ernst’s work will build knowledge of how effective eye-tracking techniques can be as a part of a therapeutic response to depression. 

And because this project also involves developing and testing an online version of the technique – with the mouse cursor used instead of an eye-tracking camera – it has the potential in the future to eventually help fight depression anywhere people can connect to the internet.

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