Modification of threat-processing in non-anxious individuals: a preliminary behavioral and ERP study

J G Suway, L K White, R E Vanderwert, Y Bar-Haim, D S Pine, N A Fox
Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry 2013, 44 (3): 285-92

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Previous research suggests that attention bias toward threat contributes to the development and maintenance of anxiety. The current study extends this work by mapping the neural correlates of experimentally-induced changes in attention bias. The study examines both behavioral and psychophysiological changes associated with experimentally-induced changes in threat bias.

METHODS: Thirty-four non-anxious female adults were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: training attention toward threat or placebo control. Attention bias was assessed and trained via a modified dot-probe task. Participants completed pre- and post-training assessments of attention bias and stress reactivity. As well, EEG was collected during pre- and post-test assessment of attention bias using the dot-probe task.

RESULTS: Training induced significant changes in attention bias, though findings were complicated by group differences in baseline threat-bias scores. Compared to controls, those in the training group showed greater depression vulnerability to a post-training stressor and increased P2 amplitude, an ERP component associated with attention toward threat, during the dot-probe task.

LIMITATIONS: Although participants were randomly assigned to groups, there were still group differences in pre-training bias scores. Also, while the use of a stress task before the initial assessment of attention bias was used to control for initial differences in stress vulnerability, this may have altered pre-bias scores since participants completed this task immediately after being stressed.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings demonstrate training-induced changes in behavior and neural response patterns relevant to work on attention bias modification.

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