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J Psychiatr Res. 2009 Mar;43(6):627-33. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2008.07.004. Epub 2008 Aug 22.

Attentional retraining: a randomized clinical trial for pathological worry.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Case Western Reserve University, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.



Research has consistently shown that highly anxious individuals tend to show an attentional bias in favor of threat cues (i.e., a threat bias). Further, recent evidence suggests that it is possible to modify patterns of attention allocation for such stimuli and the resulting changes in attention allocation alter affective responses to stress. However, to date such changes in patterns of attention have been shown only over brief time intervals and only in non-anxious individuals who lack a pre-existing attentional bias. In contrast, the present study tested the efficacy of such attentional training in a sample of severe worriers over an extended period of time using psychometrically validated measures of anxiety and depression.


Twenty-four adult participants reporting severe worry were randomly assigned to receive five sessions of either computer-delivered attentional retraining or sham training. The study was conducted from January to August 2001 and June to August 2002.


Significant Treatment Group X Time interactions were found for both threat bias (p=001) and a composite measure of anxious and depressive symptoms (p=.002). Compared to sham-training, the active retraining program produced significant reductions in both threat bias and symptoms.


These data support the view that an attentional bias in favor of threat cues is an important causal factor in generalized anxiety and suggest that a computer-based attentional retraining procedure may be an effective component of treatment.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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