Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


University of Wollongong. Dept. of Psychology


This thesis investigates the role of focus of attention in dysphoria, with specific reference to affective and cognitive components. Dysphoria is a subclinical form of psychological distress, as indicated by high scores on self-report measures of depression and anxiety. Previous research indicates that self-focused attention is associated with, and possibly mediates, dysphoria. A series of six studies was conducted to examine the relationship between self-focus and dysphoria in a college population.

The first phase of the research collected normative data in two Australian samples to investigate the relationship between self-focus and affective (Studies 1 and 2) and social-cognitive (Study 1) variables. These studies provided a refinement of trait measures of focus of attention, as derived from the Self-Consciousness Scale (SCS; Fenigstein, Scheier, & Buss, 1975). Structural equation modeling indicated that the Private Self-Consciousness (PRSC) subscale incorporated two correlated dimensions: Self-Reflectiveness (SR) and Internal Sate Awareness (ISA). The distinction between SR and ISA was confirmed by the pattern of correlations between variables. In both Studies 1 and 2, SR was more strongly correlated with measures of negative affect compared with ISA. Further, the SR and ISA dimensions differentially predicted State Anxiety.

The next phase of the research (Studies 3 and 4) investigated the vulnerability hypothesis, which predicts that high levels of self-focus will initiate or intensify dysphoria. In Study 3, high trait self-focused/nondysphoric (vulnerable) subjects reported higher levels of anxiety at 6-month follow-up compared with low trait selffocused/ nondysphoric (nonvulnerable) subjects. A similar trend was evident for depressive affect. In Study 4, focus of attention was manipulated by a story writing procedure (Fenigstein & Levine, 1984) in a sample of mild-dysphoric subjects. Selffocused subjects reported higher levels of post-manipulation depressive affect compared with externally-focused subjects. In both Studies 3 and 4, changes in negative affect were generally not accompanied by significant changes in cognition.

The final phase of the research (Studies 5 and 6) investigated the mediation of focus of attention in negative memory bias. Focus of attention was manipulated in a cued interpersonal memory retrieval paradigm. Subjects used the cue word to describe either their own actions (self-focused memories) or the other person's actions (otherfocused memories) in the remembered events. The method was designed to activate self-components that related to self as agent or object (experiencer) of action. Both studies indicated that negative memory bias was most evident when high dysphoric subjects rated their own experience in other-focused memories. Negative memory bias was not evident in low dysphoric subjects. Further, other-focused memories were accompanied by a perception of reduced causal importance of the self, as measured by attribution ratings (Study 5), and a perception of reduced control (Study 6).

Overall, the results indicated that focus of attention is more closely related to affective changes rather than cognitive changes. Therapeutic recommendations were proposed within an infonnation-processing framework. It was suggested that (a) relatively nonspecific distraction techniques may alleviate negative affect and (b) dysphoric individuals should be encouraged to focus specifically on aspects of the self that involve increased agency of action and control in order to alleviate negative cognition. Emphasis was therefore placed on adaptive change at the level of generic, schema-based infonnation in dysphoric individuals.