Insula activation is modulated by attention shifting in social anxiety disorder
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Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is characterized by exaggerated reactivity to social threat, often documented by biased attention to threatening information, and increased activation in brain regions involved in salience/threat processing. Attention training has been developed to ameliorate the attention bias documented in individuals with SAD, with mixed results. We investigated patterns of brain activation underlying acute attention modulation in 41 participants (29 with SAD and 12 health controls). We then investigated how brain activation changed over time in both groups in response to a 4-session attention training protocol (toward threat, away from threat, no-training control). Results revealed diminished pre-training deactivation in the insula in SAD participants during attention modulation. SAD participants also demonstrated an increase in insula deactivation over time, suggestive of an improvement in attention modulation of emotion, and this was associated with a decrease in symptom severity. Attention training did not, itself, lead to clinical improvement, though there was a trend level effect of training toward threat on increased insula deactivation over time. While deficits in attentional control and emotion modulation are documented in individuals with SAD, current attention training protocols are not robustly effective in ameliorating aberrant functioning. Pursuit of training protocols that have more robust impacts on the relevant neural circuitry may have some value.
author list (cited authors)
Duval, E. R., Joshi, S. A., Russman Block, S., Abelson, J. L., & Liberzon, I.