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Attention Bias in Dental Anxiety: An Examination and Experimental Manipulation

Grant Winners

  • Jedidiah Siev, Ph.D. – Center for Psychological Studies
  • Shaina Fieldstone, B.A. – Center for Psychological Studies
  • Lizania Montero, D.M.D. – College of Dental Medicine


  • Karen S. Grosby, Ed.D. – Center for Psychological Studies
  • Robert Uchin, D.D.S. – College of Dental Medicine


Award Winners

The primary aim of this project is to examine a one-session attention training protocol for individuals with dental anxiety. Approximately 10-20% of adults have dental anxiety, which is associated with a variety of wide-ranging negative outcomes including poor dental health and related costs. Surprisingly, there is a dearth of research into the psychological mechanisms associated with dental anxiety. There is a clear need for portable, cost-effective, brief interventions to help patients with dental phobia manage their anxiety in anticipation of a procedure. According to information-processing models, anxiety is maintained by biased attention. Anxious individuals have difficulty regulating their attention, and consequently attend preferentially to threat and have difficulty disengaging their attention from it. Several recent studies in the context of other anxiety disorders demonstrate that computerized interventions designed to train attention away from threat successfully reduce anxiety symptoms in as little as one session. In this study, we will examine the efficacy of a computerized attention training task in reducing attention bias and anxiety in individuals with high levels of dental anxiety. We predict that individuals who receive an attention training manipulation will demonstrate less attention bias post-training than will individuals who receive an attention control. We also predict that compared to the control task, attention training will lead to a reduction in anxiety during an imagery-based exposure task related to a personally feared dental situation. A secondary aim of this project is to learn more about the nature of dental anxiety in relation to other symptoms of psychopathology, related phobias, negative affect, and potential vulnerability factors. We will therefore administer a battery of measures to evaluate these constructs. We anticipate that the results of this investigation will serve as the foundation for a program of research to develop a clinically effective and transportable intervention for dental anxiety.

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