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What is Attention Retraining?

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Updated December 03, 2013

Definition:

Attention retraining in the context of social anxiety disorder (SAD) refers to the retraining of an automatic attention bias towards negative feedback. In other words, people with SAD tend to look for negative reactions from other people and do not notice positive reactions as much. The goal of attention retraining is to have them do the opposite.

Attention retraining is usually accomplished through the use of a computerized training program. For example, in a study by Phil Enock of Harvard University, participants were given an attentional retraining task via handheld devices such as iPhones. Participants spent 15 minutes a day engaged in a computerized task looking at pairs of faces: some positive (e.g., smiling) and some negative (e.g., frowning).

By engaging in the active part of the attention retraining task (usually identifying a letter or symbol after the presentation of the faces) people with SAD learn to focus their attention on smiling faces and away from frowning ones.

Although there is some evidence of improvement in social anxiety symptoms after attention retraining, more research is needed to validate this treatment.

Also Known As: Cognitive Bias Modification

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