Eye movement desensitization reprocessing facilitates attentional orienting


Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) is a controversial treatment for PTSD that requires clients to make rapid eye movements while revisualizing a traumatic event. Although seemingly effective, the process by which EMDR exerts its effects is poorly understod. We propose that EMDR's eye movements facilitate the orienting response, i.e., the attentional adjustment to unexpected stimuli. Since the orienting response has been implicated in spontaneous transformations of dream content during REM sleep, we reasoned that, similarly, activation of the orienting response during EMDR may facilitate content transformations in traumatic memories. To examine this hypothesis, 25 undergraduates completed 20 seconds of eye movements or 20 seconds of visual fixation before each of two tasks: (1) a covert visual attention task, in which a cue indicated the likely position of a subsequent target, and (2) a sentence rating task, in which sentences with either metaphoric or non-metaphoric endings were rated for strikingness. Repeated measures ANOVAs indicated that the eye movement manipulation facilitated attentional adjustments to targets presented in invalidly cued locations and increased the extent to which metaphoric sentence endings were found striking. Together these results suggest that the eye movements in EMDR induce attentional and semantic flexibility, thereby facilitating transformations in the client's narrative representation of the traumatic event. The implications of these findings for theories of dream formation and metaphor comprehension are also considered.






Don Kuiken
Michael Bears
David Miall
Laurie Smith

Original Work Citation

Kuiken, D., Bears, M., Miall, D., & Smith, L. (2001, September). Eye movement desensitization reprocessing facilitates attentional orienting. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 21(1), 3-20. doi:10.2190/L8JX-PGLC-B72R-KD7X



“Eye movement desensitization reprocessing facilitates attentional orienting,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed November 23, 2020, https://emdria.omeka.net/items/show/16017.

Output Formats