Objective: Social anxiety disorder is common and impairing. The efficacy of pharmacotherapy is moderate, highlighting the need for alternative therapies. This study compared the efficacy of gaze-contingent music reward therapy (GC-MRT), an eye-tracking-based attention bias modification treatment, with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) treatment or a waiting list control condition in reducing social anxiety disorder symptoms. Superior clinical effects of similar magnitude were expected for the active treatments relative to the control condition.
Methods: Participants were 105 treatment-seeking adults with social anxiety disorder, randomly allocated to 12 weeks of GC-MRT, SSRI, or waiting list control. Mean changes in clinician-rated and self-reported social anxiety symptoms from baseline to mid- and posttreatment assessments were compared between groups using generalized estimating equations. Changes in attentional dwell time on threat were also examined.
Results: Analysis indicated a significant differential reduction in symptoms between groups. Patients in the GC-MRT and SSRI groups had lower social anxiety scores at the mid- and posttreatment assessments compared with patients in the waiting list group. The efficacy of the active treatments did not differ. Only patients in the GC-MRT group showed reduction in dwell time on threat from baseline to posttreatment assessment.
Conclusions: Eye-tracking-based attention bias modification is an acceptable and effective treatment option for social anxiety disorder.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03346239.
Keywords: Antidepressants; Anxiety Disorders; SSRIs; Social Anxiety Disorder.