Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cognitive Bias Modification

Hello, I hope all of you had a great holiday with your loved ones. I enjoyed mine very much! This is an exciting break through for treating Anxiety Disorders and other Mental Health issues. Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM), uses techniques to retrain our thought patterns instead of just medicating them. I think the best part of this is that it will offer new hope for many people who are not able to get the help they need from medicine, or suffer serious side effects from the medicine they have to take. I hope to be able to share more information on this treatment as progress develops.
Thanks for visiting,
Janet :)

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Imagine a method to treat anxiety and other mental health disorders that was inexpensive, effective after a few short treatments, and didn't require drugs or trained mental health professionals. "It does sound like science fiction, doesn't it?" says Colin MacLeod, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Western Australia.

Yet that's the hope of experts studying cognitive bias modification (CBM), a new technique that aims to alter harmful thought patterns. The technique isn't ready for prime time yet. "This is quite a young field of science," says Emily Holmes, PhD, a clinical psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Oxford. But she and others say the nascent field has great promise.

Holmes describes cognitive biases as "habits of thought." "Some people might have a habit of looking at a teacup and seeing it as half empty, and others see it as half full," she says. That example is what's known as an interpretation bias. The glass-half-full type has a positive interpretation bias, while the glass-half-empty type interprets the same information with a negative bias. People with anxiety are more likely to interpret ambiguous information in a negative way — ascribing disapproving or unfriendly intentions to neutral facial expressions, for instance.

Then there are attention biases — things you notice subconsciously and automatically in the world around you. One person coming into a colleague's office might immediately take in the images on a computer screen, Holmes says, while someone with a spider phobia would be instantly drawn to a web in the corner of the window. Similarly, a person with anxiety is more likely to be tuned in to any potential (or perceived) threats in his or her environment.

To date, most studies of cognitive bias have centered on attention biases in anxiety. Numerous studies have demonstrated a link between the two, MacLeod says. The classic method of ferreting out these biases is the use of computerized dot-probe tests. In these tests, probes such as slanting lines or patterns of dots are alternately flashed on the screen near to or far from emotional images (such as disgusted versus neutral faces) or words (with negative or neutral meanings). Subjects are asked to identify the probes as quickly as possible when they appear.
Individuals with anxiety are faster to spot probes that pop up in that region of the screen where negative words or images had just been, indicating that's where the subjects had focused their attention. In other words, anxious individuals are automatically drawn to negative information.

The discovery of these negative attention biases hatched a chicken-and-egg problem: Does anxiety cause a negative attention bias, or does the bias cause anxiety? "It's kind of like a feedback loop, where the fears feed into the cognitive biases and those cognitive biases may maintain or even exacerbate the fears over time," says Brad Schmidt, PhD, who directs the anxiety and behavioral health clinic at Florida State University.

Intriguingly, though, studies show that by altering the bias, one can dial emotional vulnerability up or down. Most of these studies simply use a modified version of the dot-probe test. In a 2002 study, for instance, MacLeod and colleagues used a dot-probe task to train students either to attend to or avoid negative words. Seeing the probes flash repeatedly in particular areas of the screen, the subjects learned where to focus their attention — either on or away from the negative stimuli. Later, subjects were given a stressful anagram task to complete. Immediately following the stress test, the students who were trained to focus on negative stimuli showed increased anxiety compared with the students trained to avoid them (Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol. 111, No. 1).

"That was the start of showing this could be useful," MacLeod says, not only as a treatment, but also as a tool to study the cognitive roots of anxiety and other mental health conditions. "We can modify one facet of attention or another specifically so we can see which have an emotional impact in the laboratory," he says.

After just eight 15-minute sessions — a mere two hours of active treatment — 72 percent of patients in the treatment group no longer met diagnostic criteria for social anxiety disorder, compared with 11 percent of patients in the control group. Even more startling, the diagnostic differences were still evident at a follow-up exam four months later.

For the full article click the link below
http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/11/behavior-change.aspx

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