New research has found a computerized attention-control training program significantly reduced combat veterans’ preoccupation with — or avoidance of — threat and attendant post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
By contrast, another type of computerized training, called attention bias modification, which has proven helpful in treating anxiety disorders, did not reduce PTSD symptoms.
While attention bias modification trains attention either away from or toward threat, attention-control training teaches participants that threatening stimuli are irrelevant to performing their task, the researchers explained. This type of training requires them to attend equally to threatening and neutral stimuli.
The study determined that this reduced symptoms by reducing attention bias variability.
Attention control training balances such moment-to-moment fluctuations in attention bias from threat vigilance to threat avoidance. This correlated with the severity of PTSD symptoms and distinguished PTSD patients from healthy participants and patients with social anxiety or acute stress disorders, according to the researchers.
Researchers with the National Institute of Mental Health and Israeli researchers conducted parallel trials in which the two treatments were tested in U.S. and Israeli combat veterans.
The study team, led by Dr. Daniel Pine of the NIMH Emotion and Development Branch, and Yair Bar-Haim, Ph.D., of the School of Psychological Sciences at Tel Aviv University, published their findings in the American Journal of Psychiatry.