Attention bias modification treatment (ABMT) aims to reduce anxiety symptoms via practice on computerized attention training tasks. Despite evidence of efficacy, clinical effects appear heterogeneous. More research on ABMT mechanisms and moderators of treatment response is needed. Age is one potentially important moderator, as developmental differences in training effects may impact response. We examined developmental links between ABMT training effects and response in social anxiety disorder (SAD). We pooled data from two randomized controlled trials in treatment-seeking youths and adults with SAD (N = 99) that used identical ABMT methods. We first characterized learning effects associated with the eight-session ABMT training protocol. We then tested whether learning magnitude predicted the clinical (change in SAD symptoms) and cognitive (change in attention bias) responses to treatment. Finally, we tested whether age moderated the association between ABMT learning and treatment response. Results indicate that ABMT was associated with an incremental learning curve during the protocol, and that learning improved with age. Age further moderated the association between learning gains during the ABMT protocol and subsequent reduction in self-reported SAD symptoms, such that this association was stronger with age. These effects were not evident in bias scores or clinician ratings. Finally, pre-treatment SAD symptoms and bias scores predicted ABMT learning gains. This study highlights the links among age, learning processes, and clinical response to ABMT. These insights may inform attempts to increase the clinical efficacy of ABMT for anxiety.
- Attention bias