Online attention modification for social anxiety disorder: replication of a randomized controlled trial

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) models posit vigilance for external social threat cues and exacerbated self-focused attention as key in disorder development and maintenance. Evidence indicates a modified dot-probe protocol may reduce symptoms of SAD; however, the efficacy when compared to a standard protocol and long-term maintenance of treatment gains remains unclear. Furthermore, the efficacy of such protocols on SAD-related constructs remains relatively unknown. The current investigation clarified these associations using a randomized control trial replicating and extending previous research. Participants with SAD (n = 113; 71% women) were randomized to complete a standard (i.e. control) or modified (i.e. active) dot-probe protocol consisting of 15-min sessions twice weekly for four weeks. Self-reported symptoms were measured at baseline, post-treatment, and 4-month and 8-month follow-ups. Hierarchical linear modeling indicated significant self-reported reductions in symptoms of social anxiety, fear of negative evaluation, trait anxiety, and depression, but no such reductions in fear of positive evaluation. Symptom changes did not differ based on condition and were maintained at 8-month follow-up. Attentional biases during the dot-probe task were not related to symptom change. Overall, our results replicate support for the efficacy of both protocols in reducing symptoms of SAD and specific related constructs, and suggest a role of exposure, expectancy, or practice effects, rather than attention modification, in effecting such reductions. The current results also support distinct relationships between fears of negative and positive evaluation and social anxiety. Further research focused on identifying the mechanisms of change in attention modification protocols appears warranted.

Read the full paper: Carleton, R. N., Teale Sapach, M. J., Oriet, C., & LeBouthillier, D. M. (2017). Online attention modification for social anxiety disorder: replication of a randomized controlled trial. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 46(1), 44-59.

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