Making an IMPACT: Designing and Testing a Novel Attentional Training Game to Reduce Social Anxiety

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Making an IMPACT: Designing and Testing a Novel Attentional Training Game to Reduce Social Anxiety

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Title: Making an IMPACT: Designing and Testing a Novel Attentional Training Game to Reduce Social Anxiety
Author: Enock, Philip M.
Citation: Enock, Philip M. 2015. Making an IMPACT: Designing and Testing a Novel Attentional Training Game to Reduce Social Anxiety. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: Development of novel candidate interventions to treat anxiety disorders is an important research priority, given the burden of these disorders, barriers to treatment access, and the promising but limited success of current approaches, including attentional bias modification treatment. I created a novel training game paradigm, Intrinsically-Motivating Playable Attentional Control Training (IMPACT), with several potential ways that its design could increase the strength of attentional change and commensurate clinical benefits beyond existing training methods.

In a large online experiment, I randomized participants among three alternative IMPACT training conditions. All involved the same smiling and disgust faces falling down on the screen, and players tapped faces to score points and prevent them from reaching the bottom. In IMPACT-Positive, players tapped smiling faces only, ignoring disgust faces. In IMPACT-Threat, players tapped disgust faces, ignoring smiling faces. In IMPACT-Undirected, players tapped all faces without regard to expression. After training, participants completed flanker tasks, reaction-time measures of general and emotional attentional control and attentional bias toward threat versus neutral stimuli. Participants also confronted an anxiety-provoking stressor and rated their state anxiety before IMPACT, after IMPACT, and after the stressor.

I tested hypotheses regarding differential effects of the training variants on attentional measures and anxiety reactivity, finding that training did not cause group differences in measures of general or emotional attentional control, but they did lead to differences in attentional bias. The anxiety-provoking stressor induced a rapid rise in anxiety, but no differences emerged among the training conditions.

Overall, results show the potential for researchers to abandon the tradition of repeated reaction-time trials in favor of engaging, fluid games that continuously motivate trainees and prompt attentional shifts. Additional testing of the IMPACT paradigm is needed to establish whether this particular game training approach is clinically useful for reducing anxiety.
Terms of Use: This article is made available under the terms and conditions applicable to Other Posted Material, as set forth at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:dash.current.terms-of-use#LAA
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:17467292
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