Smartphone apps might seem like little more than fun time-wasters, but new work by scientists at Hunter College (part of the City University of New York) shows that an app they developed can significantly reduce anxiety among individuals with high levels of anxiety. The app is based on a psychological method known as attention-bias modification training (ABMT), in which a person trains their brain to ignore an anxiety-provoking stimulus and instead focus on something more pleasant. In the study, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, the researchers had 75 individuals who reported high levels of anxiety use the app, which involved following two characters and quickly and accurately tracing their paths around the screen. The study subjects were then asked to give a short speech in front of the authors. The participants who used the ABMT-based app had significantly less anxiety than those who played a similar game. Although the results still have to be validated among individuals with clinical anxiety disorders, the researchers hope that these apps can form a useful adjunct to treatment for anxiety disorders and stress.
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Journal article: Mental Health on the Go: Effects of a Gamified Attention-Bias Modification Mobile Application in Trait-Anxious Adults. Clinical Psychological Science, 2014. doi: 10.1177/2167702614522228
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