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Mental Health on the Go: Biobehavioral Effects of Computerized and Mobile Attention Bias Modification for Anxiety

"Mental Health on the Go: Biobehavioral Effects of Computerized and Mobile Attention Bias Modification for Anxiety"

Abstract: Anxiety and stress-related disorders are not only the most common of the psychiatric disorders but have a broad negative impact on physical health and positive adjustment. However, millions fail to seek or receive treatment due to high cost and low accessibility of evidence-based treatments, particularly in underserved communities, where the prevalence of stress-related disorders is highest. Given this public health crisis, research on alternative delivery systems that are more affordable, accessible, and engaging, such as computerized interventions and mobile and gamified applications or “apps”, has grown. Yet, this field of study is in its infancy. Recent advances in the understanding of the role of cognitive biases in stress and anxiety have led to the development of computerized interventions targeting the threat bias, or excessive attention to threat. Computerized attention bias modification training (ABMT) techniques that train attention away from threat stimuli result in reduced anxiety severity and stress reactivity comparable to the effect size of a typical 12-session cognitive behavioral therapy. Moreover, ABMT may bootstrap the efficacy of other treatments for anxiety and stress-related disorders across the lifespan and bolster general executive functions that support self-regulatory capacity. Therefore, ABMT, which is brief and cost-effective, may represent an optimal alternative treatment delivery approach. However, how and for whom ABMT is most effective remains unclear and the degree to which ABMT can be embedded in a mobile or gamified format and its potential for transfer of benefits are unknown. In this talk, Dr. Dennis presents a series of studies using computerized ABMT that leverage the sensitivity and specificity of scalp-recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) to identify both neurocognitive changes associated with ABMT and individual differences predicting its stress- and anxiety-reducing effects. Building on these findings, she then presents two studies documenting positive behavioral and neurocognitive effects of a gamified ABMT mobile application administered on a smartphone in trait anxious adults. Findings add to the growing body of research demonstrating that evidence-based treatment mechanisms can be embedded into mobile and gamified formats, particularly those that target cognitive biases. Moreover, results identify potential neurocognitive bases for stress-reduction effects of computerized and gamified ABMT.

Thursday, December 11, 2014
4:15 p.m., 127 Moore Building