A tendency to selectively process a threat to positive information may be involved in the etiology of anxiety disorders. The aim of this study is to examine whether attentional bias modification (ABM) can be used to modify high test-anxiety individuals’ attention to emotional information and whether this change is related to anxiety vulnerability.
Seventy-seven undergraduates were included: 28 individuals received a 5-day modified dot probe task as ABM training, 29 individuals received a 5-day classic dot probe task as placebo, and 20 individuals did not receive an intervention between the two test sections. In addition to the measure of biased attention, salivary α-amylase (sAA) and the visual analogue scale of anxiety were assessed as emotional reactivity to stress.
A repeated measurement of variance analysis and paired sample t-test indicated that the ABM group showed a significant change in attentional bias scores after the 5-day training, whereas there were no changes in the attentional bias scores in the placebo or waiting list groups. Importantly, anxiety vulnerability with attention to threats was significantly decreased in the training group.
These results suggest that attentional bias toward threat stimuli may play an important role in anxiety vulnerability. The attentional bias modification away from the threat is effective for the individuals preparing for an exam.
This trial was retrospectively registered on June 22, 2017 with the registration number ChiCTR-IOR-17011745 and the title ‘Attentional Bias in high anxiety individuals and its modification’.