Drs. Greenberg & Larson awarded new grant to explore links between attention and anxiety

Two UW-Milwaukee Psychology faculty, Dr. Adam Greenberg (PI) and Dr. Christine Larson (co-PI), have teamed up with a Radiology professor at MCW, Dr. Edgar “Ted” DeYoe (co-PI), to examine individual differences in attentional control and anxiety. This grant is funded by the Clinical & Translational Science Institute (CTSI) of Southeast Wisconsin, a consortium of eight regional organizations whose mission is to advance the health of the community through research and discovery. The CTSI receives funding from the National Institutes of Health and solicits applications for grants each autumn, awarding approximately 15 proposals per year on a highly competitive basis. Drs. Greenberg and Larson (& their team) enroll each participant in this study for 2 full weeks, during which time they perform 2 MRI brain scans and collect data about each individual’s diet, exercise, mental/physical health, and several measures of visual attention (our ability to select and process relevant visual information in the presence of distracters). While the project has a large set of aims, the primary goal is to measure how attention fluctuates naturally over this two week period, explore the associations between anxiety and attention fluctuations, and characterize individual differences in brain function that may underlie these attention-anxiety associations.

Importantly, the majority of the data they obtain is acquired outside of the laboratory environment (“in the wild”), via tablet computers, in order to avoid the heightened attentional state of participants that is often evoked by laboratory testing. Thus, they expect their data to be sensitive to small, natural fluctuations of attention, allowing for a more detailed view of the relationship between anxiety and attention. Drs. Greenberg and Larson believe that this study may help us understand how instability of attention over time (that is, the tendency to “zone out”) may be related to increased risk for anxiety. The brain imaging data they are collecting as part of this project will allow them to examine the biological factors that may mediate this relationship between anxiety and attention instability.

The ultimate goal is to characterize the differences in attention fluctuations between individuals on a large range of associated factors including mental/physical health, diet, and exercise. This grant will allow Drs. Greenberg and Larson to begin exploring this complex constellation of factors with the hope that someday we may be able to assess risk for anxiety-related conditions through evaluation of attentional control abilities and brain function.