Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

Summer 7-30-2013

Document Type



Thomas, R. (2013). Sexual victimization history and visual attentional bias for emotional pictures in college women. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Nebraska, Lincoln.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Psychology, Under the Supervision of Professor David DiLillo. Lincoln, Nebraska: July, 2013

Copyright (c) 2013 Renu A. Thomas


Various traumatic experiences and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are associated with biased attention toward trauma-related information. However, few studies have exclusively investigated such biases in sexual victimization survivors or identified factors that influence this relationship between sexual victimization and biased attention. Using eyetracking methodology, the current study attempts to delineate attentional patterns in sexually victimized and non-victimized undergraduate women, using viewing of different emotional picture pairs. This study also aims to assess the impact of PTSD symptomatology on the relationship between sexual victimization and greater attentional bias. Finally, the study explores changes in attention toward trauma-related stimuli among survivors by examining whether the probability of fixation for the trauma-related (rape) picture varies as a function of time and victimization history over the duration of a trial. A total of 142 undergraduate women who reported sexual victimization history viewed trauma-related, negative, and positive picture pairs for 5 seconds while their eye movements were recorded. No evidence was found for attentional biases toward trauma-related pictures in survivors with or without PTSD symptoms. However, survivors higher in PTSD symptoms demonstrated a tendency to dwell less on positive pictures than those lower in PTSD symptoms. Further, sexual victimization did not predict changes in fixations on trauma-related stimuli over the course of trial duration. Implications of these results are discussed in relation to methodological advantages of using eyetracking to assess attentional biases, and potential targets of intervention for survivors with higher PTSD symptomatology.

Advisor: David DiLillo