Single-session attention bias modification and error-related brain activity

Brady D Nelson, Felicia Jackson, Nader Amir, Greg Hajcak
Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience 2015, 15 (4): 776-86
An attentional bias to threat has been implicated in the etiology and maintenance of anxiety disorders. Recently, attention bias modification (ABM) has been shown to reduce threat biases and decrease anxiety. However, it is unclear whether ABM modifies neural activity linked to anxiety and risk. The current study examined the relationship between ABM and the error-related negativity (ERN), a putative biomarker of risk for anxiety disorders, and the relationship between the ERN and ABM-based changes in attention to threat. Fifty-nine participants completed a single-session of ABM and a flanker task to elicit the ERN--in counterbalanced order (i.e., ABM-before vs. ABM-after the ERN was measured). Results indicated that the ERN was smaller (i.e., less negative) among individuals who completed ABM-before relative to those who completed ABM-after. Furthermore, greater attentional disengagement from negative stimuli during ABM was associated with a smaller ERN among ABM-before and ABM-after participants. The present study suggests a direct relationship between the malleability of negative attention bias and the ERN. Explanations are provided for how ABM may contribute to reductions in the ERN. Overall, the present study indicates that a single-session of ABM may be related to a decrease in neural activity linked to anxiety and risk.

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