JOURNAL ARTICLE
RANDOMIZED CONTROLLED TRIAL

Does attention bias modification improve attentional control? A double-blind randomized experiment with individuals with social anxiety disorder

Alexandre Heeren, Cristina Mogoa┼če, Richard J McNally, Anne Schmitz, Pierre Philippot
Journal of Anxiety Disorders 2015, 29: 35-42
25465885
People with anxiety disorders often exhibit an attentional bias for threat. Attention bias modification (ABM) procedure may reduce this bias, thereby diminishing anxiety symptoms. In ABM, participants respond to probes that reliably follow non-threatening stimuli (e.g., neutral faces) such that their attention is directed away from concurrently presented threatening stimuli (e.g., disgust faces). Early studies showed that ABM reduced anxiety more than control procedures lacking any contingency between valenced stimuli and probes. However, recent work suggests that no-contingency training and training toward threat cues can be as effective as ABM in reducing anxiety, implying that any training may increase executive control over attention, thereby helping people inhibit their anxious thoughts. Extending this work, we randomly assigned participants with DSM-IV diagnosed social anxiety disorder to either training toward non-threat (ABM), training toward threat, or no-contingency condition, and we used the attention network task (ANT) to assess all three components of attention. After two training sessions, subjects in all three conditions exhibited indistinguishably significant declines from baseline to post-training in self-report and behavioral measures of anxiety on an impromptu speech task. Moreover, all groups exhibited similarly significant improvements on the alerting and executive (but not orienting) components of attention. Implications for ABM research are discussed.

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