Scientist creates scale or ‘ACCE’ for determining levels of anxiety

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A Scientist from Washington and Lee University has created a new diagnostic tool for determining how much anxiety a person is suffering from.

Dan Johnson developed the Attention Control Capacity for Emotion or ‘ACCE’ and tested it on over 400 people from the general population over a five year period.

Up until now, doctors and psychologists haven’t had an effective method for diagnosing levels of anxiety in their patients and had to rely on patients telling them how they feel which may not be a true representation.

For example, some people may be feeling more anxious than what they are willing to admit, and others may say they are more anxious than they actually are.

“Psychologists are heavily reliant on self-reporting to diagnose a patient’s level of anxiety. This is a big problem” said Johnson.

“Although self-reporting is important, patients can distort, exaggerate or minimise their condition. And there is no way to tell if they are doing this. The ACCE task can also be used to track the effectiveness of therapies,” said Johnson.

Johnson initially asked 80 students from Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute to look images on a computer screen.

There were two types of images, one displaying different emotional facial expressions like anger for example, and the other were just neutral shapes that didn’t elicit an emotional response.

Johnson asked the students to focus on the emotional facial expressions and then on the neutral shapes and to switch between the two.

Johnson could determine levels of anxiety by comparing reaction times of how quickly the individual clicked the mouse button to indicate that they had switched their attention from one image to another.

“At this point I’m using the normal population to develop this instrument. There is tremendous variation in peoples’ ability to keep their emotions in check, and this instrument can help us capture people who are effective at doing so and those who aren’t so effective” he said.

ACCE will now undergo testing in a clinical setting, which will take place at Manchester University in the UK.

The findings of the study have been reported in the Journal Cognition and Emotion.

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