The Altered Early Components and the Decisive Later Process Underlying Attention Bias Modification in Social Anxiety: Evidence From Event-Related Potentials

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2019 Dec 30;14(12):1307-1316. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsz098.


Attention bias modification (ABM) is a potential intervention in relieving social anxiety symptoms, while its underlying neural mechanisms are not yet understood. The current study included 63 college students with social anxiety. Participants were assigned to the attention modification program (AMP, n = 20), the attention control condition (ACC, n = 20) and the passive waiting group (PW, n = 23). Questionnaires and the emotional Stroop task with EEG recordings were used to assess whether and how the 4-week ABM period affected emotional symptoms and specific emotional processing. Results showed that the two training groups (AMP and ACC) produced comparable emotional improvements and both showed a decrease in negative bias compared with the PW group. The ERP results indicated that despite no significant ERP changes in the PW group, the ACC group exhibited a greater N1, whereas the AMP group exhibited a reduced VPP at the post-test stage compared to the pre-test stage. Besides, both training groups showed a similar late positive potential (LPP) reduction. Notably, the reduction in LPP was positively correlated with behavioral and symptom improvement. Thus, manipulations unique to ABM (face-target contingency) primarily modulate the early attention distribution of material-related stimuli. However, the clinical benefits of attention training may be due to later cognitive-affective mechanisms.

Keywords: Attention bias modification; event-related potentials; interpretation bias; social anxiety; transfer effect.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Attentional Bias / physiology*
  • Bias
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials*
  • Face
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Young Adult