Individuals with social anxiety experience heightened fear in threat situations. They also find it extremely difficult to be in social settings and worry about being negatively perceived by others. Decreasing the negative bias exhibited by people with social anxiety has been the goal of many interventions, including cognitive behavioral approaches. Two therapeutic methods that have been shown to be quite effective at reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression in individuals with social phobia are cognitive bias modification for interpretation (CBM-I) and computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (cCBT). Until recently, these techniques have not been compared to each other. To fill this research gap, Jennifer O. Bowler of the University of East Anglia in England led a study evaluating the effects of CBM-I and cCBT relative to no treatment at all in a group of 63 adults with social anxiety.
Participants were assessed at baseline and at the end of treatment, and were compared to anxious individuals who received no therapy. During the study, all of the participants were required to report their levels of threat perception while under cognitive stress and under nonstressful conditions. Bowler found that compared to the control participants, the individuals in the therapy classes had much lower levels of depression and anxiety throughout the study period, regardless of whether they were in cCBT or CBM-I. However, when cognitive resources were taxed, the CBM-I participants demonstrated greater symptom reduction. Bowler notes that the people in her study were relatively young, with an average age of 22, and that future work might look at a broader age of participants. Additionally, the results were based in large part on self-reports and not clinical assessment tools. Despite these limitations, Bowler believes that her findings demonstrate that people with social anxiety may benefit from a diverse treatment approach. “Combining the two interventions could therefore produce better outcomes than relying on either alone,” Bowler said. “We conclude that these two approaches could be used as alternative or complementary interventions to reduce anxiety.”
Bowler, J. O., Mackintosh, B., Dunn, B. D., Mathews, A., Dalgleish, T., Hoppitt, L. (2012). A comparison of cognitive bias modification for interpretation and computerized cognitive behavior therapy: Effects on anxiety, depression, attentional control, and interpretive bias. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029932
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