Using Attention Training to Reduce Adolescents' Anxious Symptoms

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    Western University, Canada
Updated on 25 January 2022
attention training


During adolescence, youth undergo rapid developmental change and in some cases experience increases in worries and fearfulness, although the mechanisms that underlie this change are unclear. Previous studies indicate that heightened Attentional Bias (AB) toward threat-related cues may increase fearfulness, and it may be possible to change AB using a computerized, Attention Bias Modification task (ABM). This study will recruit healthy youth with elevated anxious symptoms to index attentional tendencies toward threat-related stimuli using cutting-edge techniques, and to test the effect of a computerized attention training task in altering attention to threatening cues. The investigators will also examine the role of ABM in changing youth's attention-related resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC), a neural marker of at-rest cognition.


Adolescence is a critical period for increases in anxious symptoms, potentially due to etiologically significant Attention Biases (AB) favoring threatening cues. However, the specific facets of AB that drive this vulnerability as well as their neurocognitive correlates are unclear, due in large part to the poor psychometric properties of the traditional assessment of AB in this field. By using both a standard behavioral task and a novel eye-tracking task, this study aims to unpack the nuanced facets of AB related to anxiety risks. Additionally, well-controlled Attentional Bias Modification (ABM) tasks designed to train attention away from threatening cues can be used to experimentally manipulate the causal mechanisms of interest, and to test whether ABM reduces symptoms and alters patterns of resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC, the intrinsic brain activity that occurs outside specific tasks) that characterize anxiety risks.

This study will recruit 60 11-13-year-old healthy adolescents with heightened anxious symptoms but without clinically significant anxiety disorders. They will be randomized to a six-session ABM training or a placebo task. Both before and after the training, the investigators will assess their anxious symptoms, AB, and rsFC. By examining the risk processes prior to the onset of clinically significant anxiety disorders, our work will make important new contributions to our understanding of how AB eventuates in anxiety and will have direct implications for early identification of youth at highest risk for anxiety disorders, and the targets that should be focused on in preventative efforts.

Condition ANXIETY NEUROSIS, Anxiety Disorders, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Anxiety Disorders (Pediatric), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD - Pediatric), Anxiety, Anxiety Disorders (Pediatric), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD - Pediatric), Anxiety Symptoms, Anxiety Disorders, Attentional Bias, anxiety disorder, anxious
Treatment Control Task, Attentional Bias Modification (ABM) task
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT03973580
SponsorWestern University, Canada
Last Modified on25 January 2022

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