Refocusing Attention To Decrease Social Phobia In Adolescents

Study examines attentional modification as a social phobia intervention

Study examines attentional modification as a social phobia intervention

The period of adolescence is known to be an important developmental time, adolescence is steeped in social pressure, intense emotional experiences and risk-taking behaviour, suggesting that the effect of certain adolescent experiences can be compounded.

In this vulnerable period, there is a peak prevalence of anxiety and depression, with a cumulative prevalence of approximately 15% by 16 years of age

Anxiety and depression during the adolescent period are known to be indicators of future problems such as academic functioning and an increased risk of mental disorders in adulthood.

A study recently published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry aimed to examine the effects of visual search Attention Bias Modification (ABM) on social phobia.

The participants were split into two groups, the experimental group firstly had to undertake the Emotional Visual Search Task that involved finding positive or negative faces in a crowd:

Participants were presented with a 4 × 4 grid of emotional faces and had to find a positive face amongst a crowd of negative faces or a negative face amongst a crowd of positive faces.

This task acted as a baseline measurement before they had to complete the modification task:

Participants received a 4 × 4 grid consisting of 15 negative and one positive emotional faces and had to repeatedly select the only happy face

Participants in the second group, the control group completed a similar visual search task but had to seek out flowers with a particular amount of petals rather than select faces.

The research team also assessed anxiety, depression and self esteem.

At the end of the study was able to demonstrate a difference between the two groups:

The results showed that a two session ABM training was effective in reducing attentional bias for negative information.

That is to say those participants who completed just 2 attention bias modification sessions showed a significant decrease in social phobia.

The authors concluded that while more research is needed, given that positive effects were obtained after two short training sessions the findings suggest a promising intervention for prevention of social phobia in adolescents.

The authors also commented on the accessibility of the intervention:

Since the training can be completed on the internet, it can be provided for free or at very low costs.

De Voogd EL, Wiers RW, Prins PJ, & Salemink E (2014). Visual search attentional bias modification reduced social phobia in adolescents. Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry, 45 (2), 252-9 PMID: 24361543