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The University of Southampton

The Future of Childhood Anxiety Treatment: Translating Cognitive-Neuroscience Insights into Clinical Practice

Published: 4 May 2012

The Australian Research Council has awarded a grant to support a project which brings together an international research team to test the effectiveness of a novel computer-based intervention for childhood anxiety disorders.

The team includes researchers from Griffith University Queensland (Australia), University of California Los Angeles, the National Institute for Mental Health, Maryland (US), and Psychology at the University of Southampton. 

This intervention is designed to reduce the tendency of anxious children to direct their attention towards threat-related and unpleasant information in everyday life. This tendency is well-documented in anxiety, and is known as ‘attention bias’. The research will examine whether the intervention, which trains children to reduce their attentional bias for threat, leads to greater reduction in children's anxiety than comparison conditions, such as a placebo intervention or a no-training wait-list group. This novel treatment is designed to alleviate anxiety disorders in childhood quickly and efficiently; i.e., stopping anxiety problems before they have the opportunity to lead to lifelong patterns of disability.

Recent neuroscience work has begun to explain the neural circuitry in the brain which underlies abnormal attention to threat in anxiety. An additional aim of this work is to investigate whether children with anxiety disorders show irregularities in the underlying brain systems which control attention biases, and whether these predict response to the novel treatment intervention. Finally, another major goal of the research is to make the findings widely available to researchers, clinicians and the general public. If the results of the project demonstrate that this treatment approach is effective, a long-term aim would be to make it widely available in the future to families of children with anxiety problems.

The team consists of Allison Waters and Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck (Griffith University, Australia), Karin Mogg and Brendan Bradley (Southampton, UK), Michelle Craske (UCLA, US), & Daniel Pine (NIMH, US). The work builds on collaborative research between the team members over the past several years.

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