Category: PTSD

Symposium

Effects of an Attention Bias Modification Mobile App on Symptom Severity and Attention Bias in PTSD: A Pilot Study

Sunday, November 19
10:15 AM - 11:45 AM
Location: Sapphire Ballroom O & P, Level 4, Sapphire Level

Keywords: Attention | PTSD Posttraumatic Stress Disorder | Translational Research
Presentation Type: Symposium

Threat-related attention biases are thought to maintain symptoms of anxiety in patients with PTSD and other anxiety disorders.  Attention bias modification (ABM), during which people practice orienting attention away from threatening stimuli in early information processing stages (i.e. 500 ms), is effective at reducing anxiety severity.  Few studies have tested ABM in PTSD, and ABM has yet to be administered via mobile technology in a clinically anxious sample.  REPS (Resolving Psychological Stress) is a smartphone “app” that provides ABM training aimed at reducing attention bias for threat in PTSD on a smartphone. Twenty-three patients with current PTSD completed this pilot randomized trial at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (Mean age = 48, 52% male, 30% veterans). Participants completed ABM training (n=13), or placebo training (analogous to the ABM training protocol but including only neutral words, n=10), and completed approximately twenty minutes of activity daily for two weeks where each week included six days of ABM and a weekly assessment. Before, midway, and following the intervention, participants also completed self-report questionnaires including the PTSD Symptom Checklist (PCL) and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and completed a dot probe task to assess attention bias. We observed a significant decline in PCL scores (p < .05) and somatic symptoms from the BDI (p < .05) in the ABM group, but not in the placebo training group.  In addition, participants in the ABM group showed a reduction in attention bias for threatening words from pre to post ABM training (p < .01), whereas participants in the placebo group did not. Using 5-point Likert Scales, participants reported that the app was easy to use (4.2) and expressed feeling comfortable with the app (4.07), but reported that the app was not highly enjoyable (2.5). Despite this, 100% of participants reported that they would be willing to use a REPS-like app for six months if it reduced PTSD symptoms. Our preliminary data support the feasibility and acceptability of delivering ABM and collecting data with the REPS app.  In addition, although our study is underpowered to reliably detect group differences, our results tentatively indicate that the app may reduce attention bias and PTSD severity. Thus, REPS presents a potential method of reaching PTSD patients who are reluctant to seek treatment.

Andrea N. Niles

Postdoctoral Fellow
UCSF

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Effects of an Attention Bias Modification Mobile App on Symptom Severity and Attention Bias in PTSD: A Pilot Study



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