The purposeful allocation of one’s finite mental resources is a process known as attention (Ashcraft, 1994). Attentional pro-cesses have profound implications regarding adaptive function-ing, inasmuch as it falls to the attentional system to identify and select the most salient pieces of information in need of process-ing at each moment. Inefficient or erratic allocation of attention may engender maladaptive behavioral responses. Furthermoreit has been noted that a subset of cognitive processes appears to occur in the absence of attentional focus; such processes are often referred to as automatic (Posner and Snyder, 1975). Some automatic processes may also be etiologically involved in certain forms of psychopathology to the extent that automatic thoughts, which occur without the benefit of attentional inspection, turn out to be aberrant or distorted (Beck, 1976). Dysregulations of the attentional system appear to play a central role in several clinical disorders.
The following sections examine various ways in which the functioning, or malfunctioning, of attentional processes may be involved in four relatively common psychiatric disorders: anxiety disorders (AD), major depressive disorder (MDD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and borderline personal-ity disorder (BPD).