Attention biases towards threat signals have been linked to the etiology and symptomatology of social anxiety disorder (SAD). Dysfunction of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) may contribute to attention biases in anxious individuals. The aim of this study was to investigate the feasibility of near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) neurofeedback (NF) training-targeting the dlPFC-and its effects on threat-related attention biases of individuals with SAD. 12 individuals with SAD participated in the NIRS-NF training lasting 6-8 weeks and including a total of 15 sessions. NF performance increased significantly, while the attention bias towards threat-related stimuli and SAD symptom severity decreased after the training. The individual increase in neurofeedback performance as well as the individual decrease in SAD symptom severity was correlated with decreased responses to social threat signals in the cerebral attention system. Thus, this pilot study does not only demonstrate that NIRS-based NF is feasible in SAD patients, but also may be a promising method to investigate the causal role of the dlPFC in attention biases in SAD. Its effectiveness as a treatment tool might be examined in future studies.
Keywords: Attention bias; DlPFC; Laughter; Near-infrared spectroscopy; Social anxiety disorder.