Age Moderates Link Between Training Effects and Treatment Response to Attention Bias Modification Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder
Attention bias modification treatment (ABMT) aims to reduce anxiety symptoms via practice on computerized attention training tasks. Despite evidence of efficacy, clinical effects appear heterogeneous. More research on ABMT mechanisms and moderators of treatment response is needed. Age is one potentially important moderator, as developmental differences in training effects may impact response. We examined developmental links between ABMT training effects and response in social anxiety disorder (SAD). We pooled data from two randomized controlled trials in treatment-seeking youths and adults with SAD (N = 99) that used identical ABMT methods. We first characterized learning effects associated with the eight-session ABMT training protocol. We then tested whether learning magnitude predicted the clinical (change in SAD symptoms) and cognitive (change in attention bias) responses to treatment. Finally, we tested whether age moderated the association between ABMT learning and treatment response. Results indicate that ABMT was associated with an incremental learning curve during the protocol, and that learning improved with age. Age further moderated the association between learning gains during the ABMT protocol and subsequent reduction in self-reported SAD symptoms, such that this association was stronger with age. These effects were not evident in bias scores or clinician ratings. Finally, pre-treatment SAD symptoms and bias scores predicted ABMT learning gains. This study highlights the links among age, learning processes, and clinical response to ABMT. These insights may inform attempts to increase the clinical efficacy of ABMT for anxiety.
KeywordsAnxiety Development Attention bias Treatment Learning Children Age
This research was supported in part by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute of Mental Health (ZIAMH002781-15, NCT00018057).
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
All authors declare no conflicts of interests.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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