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Attention-Control Video Game Curbs Combat Vets’ PTSD Symptoms

Reduces Fluctuations in Attention Toward and Away from Threat

Science Update

A computerized attention-control training program significantly reduced combat veterans’ preoccupation with – or avoidance of -- threat and attendant 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. NIMH and Israeli researchers conducted parallel trials in which the two treatments were tested in US and Israeli combat veterans.

Daniel Pine, M.D., of the NIMH Emotion and Development Branch, Yair Bar-Haim, Ph.D., School of Psychological Sciences, Tel Aviv University, and colleagues, report on their findings July 24, 2015 in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

While attention bias modification trains attention either away from or toward threat, attention-control training implicitly teaches participants that threatening stimuli are irrelevant to performing their task.  It 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, which correlated with the severity of PTSD symptoms and distinguished PTSD patients from healthy controls and patients with social anxiety or acute stress disorders.  

References

Effect of attention training on attention bias variability and PTSD symptoms: randomized controlled trials in Israeli and US combat veterans. Badura-Brack AS, Naim R, Ryan TJ, Levy O, Abend R, Khanna MM, McDermott TJ, Pine WSD, Bar-Haim Y. American Journal of Psychiatry, July 24, 2015. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.14121578.

Threat-related attention bias variability and posttraumatic stress. Naim R, Abend R, Wald I, Eldar S, Levi O, Fruchter E, Ginat K, Halpern P, Sipos M, Adler AB, Bliese PD, Quartana PJ, Pine DS, Bar-Haim Y. American Journal of Psychiatry, July 24, 2015. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.14121579.

Clinical Trial ID: NCT015564667, NCT01368302

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