Brain Stimulation May Make Anxiety Treatment More Effective

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Researchers at The University of Western Australia and the University of Oxford may have found a new way to combat anxiety and depression by using brain stimulation to help retrain negative cognitive habits, according to a new report published in Biological Psychiatry.

The findings say 20 approximately 20 minutes of targeted electrical stimulation to a region of the frontal cortex could significantly improve the effectiveness of a computer-based task used to retrain unhelpful patterns of attention known to facilitate high levels of anxiety.

Brain StimulationThe cognitive training procedure, known as attention bias modification, has previously shown promise at a treatment for anxiety disorder, depression, addiction, and even potentially overeating, according to lead author Dr. Patrick Clarke, from the University of Western Australia’s School of Psychology and Centre for the Advancement of Research on Emotion.

“It works by having people [practice] a simple task where they have to repeatedly ignore certain unhelpful information, such as angry faces, or negative words, that would normally grab their attention,” Dr. Clarke explained.

“The more the task can help people to direct their attention away from this type of unhelpful information, the more benefit they tend to get from it in terms of lower anxiety.

“Our Oxford colleagues were previously able to identify an area of the frontal cortex that they believed could be responsible for the crucial change in attention that these tasks try to achieve. What’s particularly exciting about our study is that we’ve been able to show that delivering electrical stimulation to this same area can enhance the effectiveness of the training.”

The stimulation technique, formally known as transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS, is able to improve activity in areas of the brain by applying a weak electrical current to the scalp.

“There has been some research looking into tDCS as a stand-alone treatment for conditions such as depression, but our findings suggest that it might be best used in conjunction with specific cognitive training tasks, such as the one we used,” Dr. Clarke said.

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