Visual search attentional bias modification reduced social phobia in adolescents

E L De Voogd, R W Wiers, P J M Prins, E Salemink
Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry 2014, 45 (2): 252-9

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: An attentional bias for negative information plays an important role in the development and maintenance of (social) anxiety and depression, which are highly prevalent in adolescence. Attention Bias Modification (ABM) might be an interesting tool in the prevention of emotional disorders. The current study investigated whether visual search ABM might affect attentional bias and emotional functioning in adolescents.

METHODS: A visual search task was used as a training paradigm; participants (n = 16 adolescents, aged 13-16) had to repeatedly identify the only smiling face in a 4 × 4 matrix of negative emotional faces, while participants in the control condition (n = 16) were randomly allocated to one of three placebo training versions. An assessment version of the task was developed to directly test whether attentional bias changed due to the training. Self-reported anxiety and depressive symptoms and self-esteem were measured pre- and post-training.

RESULTS: After two sessions of training, the ABM group showed a significant decrease in attentional bias for negative information and self-reported social phobia, while the control group did not. There were no effects of training on depressive mood or self-esteem.

LIMITATIONS: No correlation between attentional bias and social phobia was found, which raises questions about the validity of the attentional bias assessment task. Also, the small sample size precludes strong conclusions.

CONCLUSIONS: Visual search ABM might be beneficial in changing attentional bias and social phobia in adolescents, but further research with larger sample sizes and longer follow-up is needed.

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