A grant from the National Institute of Mental Health has enabled NMU’s Department of Psychological Sciences to conduct research about the use of a cell phone app as treatment for anxiety disorders. Cognitive x Affective Behavior & Integrative Neuroscience (CABIN) Lab Director Joshua Carlson is leading the research.The three-year project began in September of 2017 and data collection began winter of 2018.
“The project wouldn’t be feasible without the grant. We have a lot of projects going on, but this one has been the focus, since we were able to receive the money,” Carlson said. “Students are learning about how much work goes into grand-funded research. It’s the less glamorous aspect of the project.”
The research investigates the effects of a mobile app created by a local programmer, and its ability to reduce anxiety in the user. Studies have shown that increased focus on threats or other negative emotional stimuli can trigger anxiety and the app is designed to use attention bias modification (ABM) to reduce the focus on those threats, therefore reducing anxiety, Carlson said. He added that other institutions are conducting research on ABM as a way to reduce anxiety, but using it in a cell phone app is not common.
“This particular project is unique to NMU,” he said.
This project requires a lot of work and would not be possible without the help of graduate and undergraduate students, Carlson said.
The research is seeking participants between the ages of 18 and 42 who are willing to commit to a six-week study. They also need to be right-handed.
Participants will have MRI and EEG imaging done before and after training to monitor the effects of the app and will be paid up to $65 for their participation. The goal is to have 100 participants in the study and they are about one-third of the way to meeting that goal, Carlson said.
Perspective participants go through a screening process and receive EEG testing before the training begins. Students help with this screening process, graduate student Jeremy Andrzejewski said. After the six-week period, the participants go through MRI testing at the hospital.
“The reason I came here is to work for Dr. Carlson because of his research in anxiety disorders,” Andrzejewski said. “I’m really interested in knowing what goes on in the brain when somebody is dealing with anxiety, and the best way to do that is to see pre and post changes.”
Andrzejewski said this project taught him how to work with the longer study protocol and about procedures for pre and post-testing measures.
As the research enters its second year, some preliminary analysis on the data collected thus far have begun, Carlson said. Students will present these findings at upcoming conferences, including the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego in early November, he added.
“[I have known] people who have fought really hard against anxiety,” Andrzejewski said. “That is one of the reasons I wanted to come here and do this research, so we can see if there are some possible ways to cause a reduction in anxiety symptoms.”