The Effects of Attention Training on Emotion Regulation and Stress Related Complaints During COVID-19

Overview

Attention control for external information and cognitive control for internal information play a causal role in emotion regulation according to different theories and empirical research. Former research in the lab of the investigators has shown positive effects of an interactive attention control/interpretation training, in which participants learned to unscramble scrambled sentences ("life is my a party mess") in a positive way ("my life is a party") by getting eye-tracking feedback about attention for positive ("party") vs. negative information ("mess"). After the training, participants could better reinterpret negative photos in a positive way. Attention- and cognitive control mechanisms prior to negative stressors (proactive control) and after negative stressors (reactive control) seem to play a role in this. Moreover, research has shown that low perceived control and negative expectations about future emotion regulation skills results in lower proactive control and a higher need of reactive control. Based on this, the assumption can be made that the effects of attention control training – targeting reactive control – could benefit from adding techniques that affect proactive control (e.g. psycho-education). In the present study this is investigated by testing a new two weeks attention control training to see if this has a positive effect on stress related complaints, depressive symptoms and emotion regulation. Given that the current COVID-19 pandemic is perceived as very stressful by a lot of people, the training could help here. Participants between 18 to 65 years of age are recruited during this corona crisis. The attention control training is a new smartphone based application. Participants have to unscramble scrambled sentences into grammatically correct sentences. In the training condition, participants are asked to unscramble the scrambled sentences in a positive way. By swiping, participants can see part of the sentences. This gives the investigators an image about the processing of the sentences. This procedure allows to measure how long participants attend to positive and negative words. In the training condition participants get feedback about the duration they process positive and negative words. In the control group participants unscramble the sentences as fast as possible without feedback on emotional attention. Participants only get feedback about the speed at which sentences are unscrambled. Before and after the 10 training sessions, attention of the participants is measured to see the effects of the training. Questionnaires on depressive and anxiety complaints, emotion regulation strategies, well-being and stress are administered before and after the training. There is also a follow-up measure 2 months after the training. Both groups (training and control) watch a psycho-education video before the start of the training.

Full Title of Study: “The Effects of Attention Training on Emotion Regulation and Stress Related Complaints During COVID-19: Validation of a New Online Treatment”

Study Type

  • Study Type: Interventional
  • Study Design
    • Allocation: Randomized
    • Intervention Model: Parallel Assignment
    • Primary Purpose: Supportive Care
    • Masking: Single (Participant)
  • Study Primary Completion Date: August 2020

Interventions

  • Behavioral: Behavioral: OCAT-sham
    • Placebo version of the online contingent attention training preceded by psycho-education movieclip.
  • Behavioral: Behavioral: OCAT
    • Online contingent attention training preceded by psycho-education movieclip.
  • Other: psycho-education video
    • Both groups get to see a psycho-education video before the smartphone training starts.

Arms, Groups and Cohorts

  • Active Comparator: Active Comparator: PSE + OCAT-sham
    • Psycho-education video + an active placebo training, consisting of 10 sessions of ±15 minutes each (during an intervention period of two weeks), will be administered. The training task is an undirected scrambled sentences task with online contingent feedback.
  • Experimental: Experimental: PSE + OCAT
    • Psycho-education video + an attention training, consisting of 10 sessions of ±15 minutes each (during an intervention period of two weeks), will be administered. The training task is a positively directed scrambled sentences task with online contingent feedback.

Clinical Trial Outcome Measures

Primary Measures

  • Changes in depression-, anxiety- and psychosomatic stress symptoms
    • Time Frame: pre-test (before starting the training), post-test (immediately after the training), follow-up (two months after the training)
    • Measured by Mood and Anxiety Symptom Questionnaire (MASQ-30). It measures the dimensions of Clark and Watson’s tripartite model, covering both shared and distinct symptoms of depression and anxiety. It has three sub-scales: Negative Affect (NA), associated with both depression and anxiety; lack of Positive Affect (PA), associated with depressive moods; and Somatic Arousal (SA), associated with anxiety. Scores are ranging from 10 to 50, with higher scores indicating more severe psychopathology.

Secondary Measures

  • Changes in rumination.
    • Time Frame: pre-test (before starting the training), post-test (immediately after the training), follow-up (two months after the training)
    • Measured by Rumination Response Scale (RRS). This 22-item questionnaire provides a total rumination score (range: 22 – 88), as well as Brooding and Reflection sub-scale scores (range: 5 – 20). Brooding is characterized by a passive style of moody pondering. Higher scores indicate a worse outcome.
  • Changes in cognitive emotion regulation strategies.
    • Time Frame: pre-test (before starting the training), post-test (immediately after the training), follow-up (two months after the training)
    • Measured by the Cognitive Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (CERQ). Which measures different emotion regulation strategies. This questionnaire has 9 sub-scales: self-blame, other-blame, rumination, catastrophizing, putting into perspective, positive refocusing, positive reappraisal, acceptance and planning. Each sub-scale has a scoring range between 4 and 20. A higher score represents a greater frequency of engaging in that emotion regulation strategy.
  • Changes in emotional attention
    • Time Frame: pre-test (before starting the training), post-test (immediately after the training)
    • Measured by a baseline measure in our OCAT app and measure of the end of the training period.

Participating in This Clinical Trial

Inclusion Criteria

  • Android smartphone

Exclusion Criteria

  • severe depressive complaints

Gender Eligibility: All

Minimum Age: 18 Years

Maximum Age: 65 Years

Are Healthy Volunteers Accepted: Accepts Healthy Volunteers

Investigator Details

  • Lead Sponsor
    • University Ghent
  • Provider of Information About this Clinical Study
    • Sponsor
  • Overall Official(s)
    • Rudi De Raedt, PhD, Principal Investigator, University Ghent
    • Ernst Koster, PhD, Principal Investigator, University Ghent
  • Overall Contact(s)
    • Kim Rens, MSc, +32 494 71 66 97, kim.rens@ugent.be

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