Category: Cognitive Science / Cognitive Processes

Symposium

Increased Dwell Time on Threat as a Possible Target for Intervention: Present Findings and Future Directions

Friday, November 17
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Location: Sapphire Ballroom E & F, Level 4, Sapphire Level

Keywords: Anxiety | Depression | Attention
Presentation Type: Symposium

Aim: This presentation aims to: 1) describe a novel eye-tracking paradigm used to assess and subsequently modify attention allocation patterns; 2) report extant findings in social anxiety disorder (SAD); and 3) report preliminary findings in depression.
Method: During an assessment task participants’ eye movements weretracked while freely viewing 60 matrices, each comprised of eight threatening and eight neutral facial expressions, presented for 6000 ms each. Participants’ attention allocation to threat and neutral areas of interest (AOIs) was examined. The psychometric properties of the task was also evaluated. Study 1 compared SAD patients (n=20), high socially anxious students (n=20), and non-anxious students (n=20), using matrices of disgust and neutral faces. Study 2 compared highly depressed (n=23) and non-depressed students (n=20) using sad and happy faces. In Study 3, 40 treatment-seeking SAD patients were randomly assigned to receive either eight sessions of gaze-contingent music reward therapy (GC-MRT) designed to divert attention to neutral over threat faces, or eight sessions of a non-gaze-contingent control condition. Study 4 examines GC-MRT in depression and is currently underway.
Results: Study 1 revealed that socially anxious students and SAD patients dwelled significantly longer on threat faces compared with nonanxious participants, F(2, 57)=3.68, p=.03, with no differences in the neutral AOI. Study 2 revealed similar results, finding a significant difference between depressed and control participants on the sad AOI, t(41)=4.08, p=.05, but not on the happy AOI, t(41)=1.32, p=.19. Acceptable psychometrics were found in both studies. In Study 3, GC-MRT yielded greater reductions in social anxiety symptoms than the control condition on both clinician-rated and self-reported measures, with effects maintained at follow-up. GC-MRT also reduced dwell time on threat, which partially mediated clinical effects. Preliminary results of Study 4 will be available for the meeting presentation.
Conclusions: Social anxiety and depression are associated with increased dwell time on threatening stimuli, presenting a potential target for therapeutic intervention.

Amit Lazarov

Researcher
Tel Aviv University

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