Current attention bias modification (ABM) procedures are designed to implicitly train attention away from threatening stimuli with the hope of reducing stress reactivity and anxiety symptoms. However, the mechanisms underlying effective ABM delivery are not well understood, with awareness of the training contingency suggested as one possible factor contributing to ABM efficacy. Here, 45 high-anxious participants were trained to divert attention away from threat in two ABM sessions. They were randomly assigned to one of three training protocols: an implicit protocol, comprising two standard implicit ABM training sessions; an explicit protocol, comprising two sessions with explicit instruction as to the attention training contingency; and an implicit-explicit protocol, in which participants were not informed of the training contingency in the first ABM session and informed of it at the start of the second session. We examined learning processes and stress reactivity following a stress-induction task. Results indicate that relative to implicit instructions, explicit instructions led to stronger learning during the first training session. Following rest, the explicit and implicit groups exhibited consolidation-related improvement in performance, whereas no such improvement was noted for the implicit-explicit group. Finally, although stress reactivity was reduced after training, contingency awareness did not yield a differential effect on stress reactivity measured using both self-reports and skin conductance, within and across sessions. These results suggest that explicit ABM administration leads to greater initial learning during the training protocol while not differing from standard implicit administration in terms of off-line learning and stress reactivity.
Keywords: anxiety; attentional training; explicit information; learning; stress reactivity.
Copyright © 2017. Published by Elsevier Ltd.