Quick Test May Determine the Best Treatment for Anxiety


Anxiety disorders can be difficult to treat, and for some people, it can take months of treatment before symptoms begin to improve. Now, a small study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago suggests a quick test performed in the doctor’s office can help determine whether antidepressant medication or cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) will likely be more effective for a patient with anxiety.

The study involved 60 adults with anxiety disorders and 26 people with no history of mental health problems. Study participants completed a task requiring them to quickly and accurately indicate the direction of a center arrow within a string of arrows on a computer screen. While a subject completed this task - which increased in pace over time, resulting in a higher likelihood of mistakes - the researchers performed an electroencephalography (EEG) to measure error-related negativity – higher electrical activity in the brain in response to committing an error. Error-related negativity is associated with greater anxiety symptoms. The participants were then given either anti-anxiety medication (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, SSRIs) or CBT, a type of psychotherapy, for 12 weeks and the test was repeated.

According to the researchers, higher error-related negativity at the beginning of treatment was associated with a greater reduction of anxiety symptoms in those who had psychotherapy, but not in those who received medication. Participants who were given SSRIs experienced even higher error-related negativity at the end of the study period. The researchers concluded that anxious people who have high error-related negativity measurements experience better results with CBT than with anti-anxiety medication.

Source: University of Illinois at Chicago