Feeling and Looking Down: Impact of Depressive Symptoms on the Allocation of Vertical Attention

Congratulations Dr. Kenneth Heilman on the publication of “Feeling and Looking Down: Impact of Depressive Symptoms on the Allocation of Vertical Attention,” in Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology.



Emotions and moods are often expressed using verbal, vertical spatial metaphors (eg, “I’m feeling down”). The reason for using these vertical metaphors is unknown; however, when individuals experience depressive symptoms, they often become self-reflective and ruminative. These mental activities are associated with activation of the default network, including the parietal lobes. The parietal lobes are a critical component of the dorsal visual attentional network, which allocates attention downward. Therefore, activation of the default network may create a downward bias of vertical attention.


To investigate whether depressive mood disposition, as measured by the number of depressive symptoms experienced by an individual, influences their allocation of vertical attention.


We used the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale to evaluate depressive symptoms in 48 right-handed individuals with a mean age of 57.31 (±17.14) years. We also asked the participants to mark the center (bisect) of 24 vertical and 24 horizontal lines.


Overall, the individuals deviated their bisections of vertical lines upward (M=2.66 mm; SD=3.85). A stepwise linear regression analysis revealed that the number of depressive symptoms an individual experienced was significantly associated with a reduction in the magnitude of this upward vertical bias (P=0.009; R2=0.138), such that the number of depressive symptoms was associated with the reduction (lowering) of their upward bias.


Depressive symptoms may be associated with a relative lowering of the vertical attentional bias, and this lowering may be related to increased activation of portions of the default network.