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Completed research project

Title / Titel Ocular mental time in posttraumatic stress disorder
PDF Abstract (PDF, 14 KB)
Summary / Zusammenfassung Patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) display several symptoms that relate to mental time. Mental time involves episodic memory, episodic future thinking, as well as thinking about the past, present, and future in general. PTSD patients for example show avoidance of trauma reminders, overgeneral episodic memory, and possibly also overgeneral episodic future thinking. The current project for the first time combines new ocular research on mental time with research assessing mental time symptoms in PTSD. Recent non-clinical eye-tracking studies show that processing mental time is systematically reflected in corresponding oculomotor (eye) movements: our eyes unconsciously look along a mentally construed time line while we cognitively process time. Specifically, our eyes look along a diagonal mental time line (left/down: past; right/up: future) while processing episodic (personal) memory or episodic future thinking, and our eyes look along a vertical mental time line (down: past; up: future) while processing generic (non-personal) time. Moreover, fewer saccades are made for two simultaneous events both taking place at the present moment compared to two events where one event takes place at the present moment and the other in the past or future.
We will assess 40 PTSD patients, 40 trauma controls, and 40 healthy controls to investigate the overarching hypothesis that PTSD patients oculomotorically look through time in a more diffused manner than the two control groups. Specifically, we predict (compared to trauma controls and healthy controls) that 1) due to overgeneral memory, PTSD patients show fewer leftward/downward saccades/fixations for processing the episodic past and fewer downward saccades/fixations for processing the generic past; 2) due to overgeneral future thinking, PTSD patients show fewer rightward/upward saccades/fixations for processing the episodic future, and fewer upward saccades/fixations for processing the generic future.; and (3) due to the possibility that vague (overgeneral) thinking about time might also include thinking about the present, we also predict that PTSD patients show fewer saccades/fixations in the same direction for two events occurring at the present moment.
Confirmation of our hypotheses will have implications for future research into the phenomenology and treatment of PTSD. Development and improvement of interventions for traumatized people is urgently needed because, although a number of evidence-based psychotherapeutic and pharmacological treatments for PTSD are available, many patients do not respond sufficiently or, due to various reasons, drop out of treatment. Moreover, symptoms such as overgeneral memory and avoidance have also been found in other disorders such as depression, complicated grief, and schizophrenia. Findings may therefore also stimulate research on other common psychological disorders.
Project leadership and contacts /
Projektleitung und Kontakte
Dr. Kurt Stocker (Project Leader)
Prof. Monique Pfaltz  
Prof. Ulrich Schnyder  
Funding source(s) /
Unterstützt durch
In collaboration with /
In Zusammenarbeit mit
Dr. Christopher Bockisch, University Hospital Zurich, Neurology, Vestibulo-Oculomotor Laboratory Switzerland
Prof. Peter Brugger, University Hospital Zurich, Neurology, Neuropsychology Switzerland
ETH Zurich, Chair of Cognitive Science Switzerland
University of Zurich, Department of Psychology, Neuropsychology Switzerland
Duration of Project / Projektdauer Aug 2015 to Dec 2016