Anxiety is characterized by an attention bias toward threat;that is, anxious individuals will preferentially attend to threatening versus non-threatenig information. Recent research has demonstrated that reducing this bias, through attention bias modification (ABM), leads to reductions in anxious symptoms and changes in attention. Although these effects are promising for the development of an alternative intervention for anxiety, little is known about the processes underlying ABM effects. The proposed research will use a combination of behavioral and neurophysiological measures to identify biomarkers for the threat bias and to explore the attentional processes altered by ABM. The applicant has had training in neurophysiological measures (electroencephalography;EEG) over the past four years as a graduate student. During this time the applicant has been trained on a variety of event-related potentials (ERPs) that track relatively automatic and more controlled attentional processes. This F-31 will enhance the applicant's training in both ERP analysis and working with anxious samples of participants. The applicant's short term goals are to identify ERP biomarkers for the threat bias and to track changes in attention to threat following ABM using ERPs.
The aims of the proposed research will explore whether early and relatively automatic attention or later and more controlled attention to threat are implicated in the threat bias or modulated by ABM. Long-term goals include using this same methodology to investigate the effects of administering the ABM task at home over an extended period of time, rather than in the laboratory for a limited amount of training. The results of the proposed research will be used as pilot data to prepare an F-32 grant to address this question. The proposed research training plan is critical for the development of the applicant's program of research and ability to become an independent researcher. The proposed research will be conducted at Hunter College where the primary sponsor and one consultant are located;an additional sponsor is at Tel-Aviv University. Both consultants are collaborators of the primary sponsor, which will allow the applicant to interact with leading researchers in the field of anxiety interventions and ABM. Findings from the proposed research have the potential to inform identification of individuals with anxiety and to contribute to future studies assessing the efficacy of ABM as a viable treatment alternative.
The threat bias, or preferential attention to threatening versus non-threatening information, may play a causal role in the development and maintenance of anxiety. The threat bias can be modified using the attention bias modification (ABM) task;several studies have shown that training attention away from threat reduces both the threat bias and symptoms of anxiety. However, few studies have examined the processes underlying these effects. The proposed research aims to use a multi-method approach using event-related potentials to measure the threat bias and to track changes in attention to threat. This proposal has the potential to identify biomarkers for the threat bias and to lay the groundwork for future studies of the efficacy of ABM as a viable treatment alternative for anxiety.