June 23, 2017

SIU psychologists test computer-based training interventions to combat anxiety, depression

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Researchers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Anxiety, Behavior and Cognition Research Laboratory are looking for a few worried people. 

Researchers Sarah J. Kertz, associate professor and director of the laboratory, and doctoral students Eva Harris, J. MacLaren Kelly and Keith Klein, are offering anxiety and depression intervention treatment in exchange for participation in a research project. They are conducting a four-week study to test the efficacy of computer-based training programs that might help people learn to control their anxiety. 

Kelly noted that mood and anxiety disorders are among the most common and costly of all mental health disorders, partly because anxiety tends to recur and persist even with treatment. Studies indicate that training a person to take control of the thought cycle that leads to depression and anxiety can reduce symptoms, but studies comparing different training interventions are lacking. The SIU study will compare two training interventions that, used singly or in combination with each other, have shown success, and will test individual components of what psychologists call “cognitive control.” 

Anxiety and depression have something in common -- “rumination.” It means repeatedly going over a thought or problem without completing the thought or arriving at a solution. Rumination is a specific kind of repetitive thinking and contributes to anxiety and depression. “Cognitive control” refers to the way the brain processes information and how it varies adaptively depending on need. Cognitive control deficits are when that process doesn’t work smoothly – for example, when a person can’t focus when they should pay attention or when they dwell on negative experiences through selective memory. 

Participants in the SIU study will use a computer-based “cognitive training intervention” – a training program that will help them learn to control their attention better and reduce repetitive negative thinking. 

Here’s what you need to know if you want to participate in the study: 

The official name of the study is “Biopsychosocial Investigation of Guided Computer Activity Trainings (BIG CATs) on Decreasing Repetitive Negative Thoughts in Adults.” If you have a question about the study, calling it “BIG CATS” will do. 

Participants must be 18 years old or older, speak English, have access to a computer and the Internet, and be willing to maintain stable medication, if applicable, during the study period. 

Participants will visit the ABC Research Lab on the SIU campus two times for a pre- and post-treatment assessment. They will also use the computer-based training program at home for approximately 30 minutes a day, five days a week. After completing the study, participants will receive a final report that includes a summary of their symptoms, notes about symptom changes over the course of the four-week training and treatment period, and clinical recommendations if warranted. They can review the final report by phone or in a face-to-face review session.  

The study includes a three-month follow-up survey to help researchers determine the longer-term benefits of the anxiety intervention training. 

The study follows all appropriate guidelines, and participants may withdraw at any time. The study is confidential. Participants’ data will be associated with a research identification number, not by name. There is no deadline to apply to volunteer for this ongoing study, and there is no cost to apply or participate. 

Potential participants can apply online. More information is available on the ABC Laboratory website. To contact the researchers, call Sarah Kertz at 618/453-3572 or email bigcats.abc.lab@gmail.com