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On average, anxious patients show altered attention to threat—including early vigilance toward threat and later avoidance of threat—accompanied by altered functional connectivity across brain regions. However, substantial heterogeneity within clinical, neural, and attentional features of anxiety is overlooked in typical group-level comparisons. We used a well-validated method for data-driven parsing of neural connectivity to reveal connectivity-based subgroups among 60 adults with transdiagnostic anxiety. Subgroups were externally compared on attentional patterns derived from independent behavioral measures. Two subgroups emerged. Subgroup A (68% of patients) showed stronger executive network influences on sensory processing regions and a paradigmatic “vigilance–avoidance” pattern on external behavioral measures. Subgroup B was defined by a larger number of limbic influences on sensory regions and exhibited a more atypical and inconsistent attentional profile. Neural connectivity-based categorization revealed an atypical, limbic-driven pattern of connectivity in a subset of anxious patients that generalized to atypical patterns of selective attention.
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
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RUNNING HEAD: Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
Neural Connectivity Subtypes Predict Discrete Attentional Bias Profiles Among
Heterogeneous Anxiety Patients
Rebecca B. Price, PhD1; Adriene M. Beltz, PhD2; Mary L. Woody, PhD1; Logan
Cummings, BS3; Danielle Gilchrist, BA1; Greg J. Siegle, PhD1
1Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
2Department of Psychology, University of Michigan
3Department of Psychology, Florida International University
**Accepted manuscript: Clinical Psychological Science**
Author Note: Supported by a Career Development Award from NIMH (1K23MH100259; PI:
Price). The authors have no conflicts of interest.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Rebecca Price, Western
Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, 3811 O’Hara St., Pittsburgh, PA 15213, Phone: 412-648-6445,
Fax: 412-648-6451, email: !
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
On average, anxious patients show altered attention to threat—including early vigilance towards
threat and later avoidance of threat—accompanied by altered functional connectivity across brain
regions. However, substantial heterogeneity within clinical, neural, and attentional features of
anxiety is overlooked in typical group-level comparisons. We used a well-validated method for
data-driven parsing of neural connectivity to reveal connectivity-based subgroups among 60
adults with transdiagnostic anxiety. Subgroups were externally compared on attentional patterns
derived from independent behavioral measures. Two subgroups emerged. Subgroup A (68% of
patients) showed stronger executive network influences on sensory processing regions and a
paradigmatic “vigilance-avoidance” pattern on external behavioral measures. Subgroup B was
defined by a larger number of limbic influences on sensory regions and exhibited a more atypical
and inconsistent attentional profile. Neural connectivity-based categorization revealed an
atypical, limbic-driven pattern of connectivity in a subset of anxious patients that generalized to
atypical patterns of selective attention.
Keywords: fMRI, individual-level functional connectivity, community detection, attentional bias,
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
Neural Connectivity Subtypes Predict Discrete Attentional Bias Profiles Among Heterogeneous
Anxiety Patients
Biological heterogeneity is common within psychological disorders. Anxiety disorders,
the most common form of psychiatric disorder (Kessler, Chiu, Demler, Merikangas, & Walters,
2005), are replete with heterogeneity at the level of symptom presentation (Grisanzio et al.,
2018), but little is known within this broad class of diagnoses regarding possible biobehavioral
subtypes, and treatment indications that might track with such subtypes. Though genetic and
neurocognitive studies suggest a broad taxonomy distinguishing anxiety disorders characterized
predominantly by chronic distress from those characterized by acute fear (Kendler, Prescott,
Myers, & Neale, 2003; Lahey, Van Hulle, Singh, Waldman, & Rathouz, 2011; McTeague &
Lang, 2012), such broad distinctions at the level of clusters of symptoms or symptom-based
diagnoses remain inherently heterogeneous with regard to specific biobehavioral mechanisms
that are likely to vary within the scope of a single diagnosis—and which may represent important
treatment targets.
In a complementary approach, biological heterogeneity across individual patients has
been parsed with data-driven methods to identify subgroups of patients within broad disorder
domains (Beltz, Moser, Zhu, Burt, & Klump, 2018; Clementz et al., 2016; Karalunas et al., 2014;
Yang et al., 2014), including affective disorders such as depression (Drysdale et al., 2017; Price,
Gates, Kraynak, Thase, & Siegle, 2017; Price, Lane, et al., 2017). Efforts to date suggest that
such biologically-based subtyping can have external relevance to clinically relevant features
across multiple levels of analysis, including gender, diagnosis (depressed vs. healthy; comorbid
anxiety), symptom severity, history of depression recurrence, and behavioral performance on
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
information processing tasks (Price, Gates, et al., 2017; Price, Lane, et al., 2017); and could
possibly inform clinical decision-making (Drysdale et al., 2017).
One well-established, clinically relevant, transdiagnostic dimension of anxiety disorders
involves altered attentional deployment towards threat (hereafter, “attentional bias”), which has
been described at both early and later stages of threat processing. Specifically, anxious
individuals may show a pattern of excessive vigilance towards threat during initial stages of
threat processing (Bar-Haim, Lamy, Pergamin, Bakermans-Kranenburg, & van IJzendoorn,
2007), but during later, more strategic stages of threat processing, may switch to an avoidant
pattern of attention (Mogg, Bradley, Miles, & Dixon, 2004)—consistent with the marked degree
of behavioral avoidance that is a core clinical feature of these conditions.
Both arms of this “vigilance-avoidance” pattern have been linked previously to altered
functional connectivity between regulatory regions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and
affective/limbic regions involved in stimulus-driven responses to threat-related stimuli (e.g.,
amygdala, hippocampus) (Bishop, 2007; Price, Allen, et al., 2016; Price, Eldreth, & Mohlman,
2011; Price et al., 2014; White et al., 2017). However, group-level observations of these
attentional phenomena in anxious samples mask considerable within-group heterogeneity, which
may contribute to notably mixed findings within the literature (Kruijt, Parsons, & Fox, 2018;
Mogg, Waters, & Bradley, 2017; Rosen, Price, & Silk, Submitted). Further contributing to
heterogeneity, attention is itself a multifaceted phenomenon, with divergent subcomponents
present not only as a function of time period (as predicted by vigilance-avoidance models), but
also with respect to overt vs. covert components (i.e., observable “overt” eye movements vs.
“covert” shifts in the ‘spotlight’ of attention within a stable visual field; (Posner, Snyder, &
Davidson, 1980; Weierich, Treat, & Hollingworth, 2008)), and engagement vs. disengagement
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
processes (i.e., selective initial capture of attention by threat vs. selective difficulties disengaging
from threat; (Grafton & MacLeod, 2014))—each with potentially unique neural substrates
(Petersen & Posner, 2012).
Individual differences in attentional patterns within anxious samples have been linked to
longitudinal and treatment outcomes (Amir, Taylor, & Donohue, 2011; Legerstee et al., 2009;
Price, Tone, & Anderson, 2011; Price, Rosen, et al., 2015; Price, Wallace, et al., 2016; Price,
Woody, Panny, & Siegle, In press), suggesting that attending to heterogeneity may help to
capture critical, clinically relevant information. Multiple treatment modalities (e.g.,
psychotherapy, pharmacology) produce acute reductions in attentional bias that may precede
mood effects (Browning, Holmes, & Harmer, 2010), suggesting that attentional bias
modification could be a final common pathway to symptom reduction. Recently, methods have
been developed to alter attentional bias directly through computer-based tasks that consistently
train initial attention towards neutral or positive cues. After establishing causal effects of the
experimental manipulation of attentional bias on emotional reactivity in healthy samples
(MacLeod, Rutherford, Campbell, Ebsworthy, & Holker, 2002), this approach was extended to
clinical populations (Heeren, Mogoase, Philippot, & McNally, 2015; Linetzky, Pergamin-Hight,
Pine, & Bar-Haim, 2015; Price, Wallace, et al., 2016). However, given widely-noted mixed
findings within this emerging mechanistic treatment literature (McNally, 2018), a better
understanding of the underlying neural contributors to heterogeneous attentional patterns within
anxious patients may offer key insights that are relevant to the refinement of mechanistic
treatments targeting attention and/or patient-treatment matching algorithms.
The neural substrates of both anxiety and attentional bias have typically been studied
through group comparisons (e.g., anxious patients vs. controls), but group-level summaries (e.g.,
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
brain maps) may not accurately represent even a single individual within the group (Beltz,
Wright, Sprague, & Molenaar, 2016; Gates & Molenaar, 2012; Miller et al., 2002; Molenaar &
Campbell, 2009). A more novel approach is to focus explicitly on heterogeneity (e.g.,
heterogeneity expressed within neural network connections) by analyzing data at the individual
participant level, searching for detectable biologically-derived subgroups, and then
characterizing these subgroups with respect to relevant observable characteristics and behaviors
(Drysdale et al., 2017; Price, Gates, et al., 2017; Price, Lane, et al., 2017).
In the present study, we aimed to robustly characterize the functional connectivity
patterns expressed by each individual within a transdiagnostic clinically anxious sample during
the presentation of threatening and neutral images. As in our previous studies, we applied a
connectivity method shown to reliably recover, for each individual, both the presence and the
direction of connectivity among regions [i.e., does A predict B after controlling all other
network-wide influences (including B’s influence on itself)? (Friston, 1994)]. Whereas concerns
have been raised about the ability of many connectivity methods to reliably recover brain
connections for individuals (Smith et al., 2011), validation tests suggest our selected approach,
Group Iterative Multiple Model Estimation with subgrouping [S-GIMME; (Gates, Lane,
Varangas, Giovanello, & Guiskewicz, 2017; Gates & Molenaar, 2012)], reliably recovers both
the presence and direction of paths within heterogeneous individuals when the number of
observations per person exceeds 120, as is the case in most neuroimaging data, even in relatively
small subsets of individuals (Gates & Molenaar, 2012; Lane, Gates, Pike, Beltz, & Wright, 2019;
Mumford & Ramsey, 2014; Nichols, Gates, Molenaar, & Wilson, 2014).
This approach thus allowed for neural network maps, across a network of regions
robustly modulated by the task, to be reliably constructed at the individual level, and with greater
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
specificity than is possible in non-directed (e.g., correlational) approaches, while incorporating
data-driven, subgroup categorization within these functional connectivity maps. In addition to
being able to recover models in best-case scenarios, the GIMME algorithm robustly recovers
individual-level directed paths in a number of conditions that emulate those seen in fMRI
studies, such as nonstationarity and additional noise in the region of interests selected (Gates &
Molenaar, 2012). Of particular relevance for subgrouping, GIMME has been strongly validated
at the individual subject level, robustly recovering directed influences in heterogeneous
individuals according to simulations (Gates & Molenaar, 2012).
With regard to subsequent subgroup detection based on connectivity maps, the S-
GIMME approach has been validated in both simulated (Gates et al., 2017; Gates & Molenaar,
2012; Gates, Molenaar, Iyer, Nigg, & Fair, 2014; Lane et al., 2019) and empirical (Price, Gates,
et al., 2017; Price, Lane, et al., 2017) datasets. S-GIMME has been shown to reliably recover the
underlying subgroups across a range of conditions, such as varying number of subgroups,
various size and proportionality of subgroups, and differing sample sizes (Gates et al., 2017;
Lane et al., 2019), including much smaller samples (e.g., N=25 in the total sample, prior to
subgrouping) than the current sample (N=60). The stability and robustness of the subgroup
solution produced by S-GIMME has been established using simulated and empirical data (Gates
et al., 2014). Subgroups remain stable after randomly perturbing the similarity matrix of
connectivity weights to generate random fluctuations in individual data points (while holding
sample size/power constant). Additionally, an extensive Monte Carlo simulation study was
conducted to identify which clustering algorithms return the correct subgroups in the context of
GIMME-derived features (Gates et al., 2017). Walktrap (Pons & Latapy, 2006), the clustering
approach used in S-GIMME, outperformed all the others. Furthermore, Walktrap is an
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
unsupervised classification approach which does not rely on an a priori number of subgroups
specified by the researcher. Instead, it produces an optimal number of subgroups based solely on
shared patterns of connectivity across individuals, and, if there are no subgroups, Walktrap is
among the few methods that will return only one subgroup. This indicates to the researcher that,
if subgroups are obtained, they explain more variance than considering the sample as one group.
In summary, S-GIMME provides a robust and exceedingly well-validated data-driven approach
to parsing heterogeneity within the functional connectivity of a sample, even in the absence of
“big data” cohorts.
Given previous findings suggesting functional connectivity patterns across PFC and
limbic/affective are key substrates of attentional bias, we hypothesized that subgroups, derived
by S-GIMME based solely on functional connectivity maps, might differ on externally measured
behavioral indices of attention to threat. Attentional bias variables collected outside the scanner
(eyetracking, reaction times) were thus used to compare connectivity-based subgroups across
multiple subcomponents of attention, including varying time periods (initial vs. later stages of
threat processing) and discrete subcomponents of attention (overt vs. covert attention,
engagement vs. disengagement patterns), allowing us to further characterize the subgroups and
assess their external relevance to a putative treatment target in anxiety. Resulting connectivity-
based subgroup characteristics could ultimately suggest novel mechanistic targets for treatment
by revealing discrete attentional profiles that would be overlooked when averaging across
heterogeneous anxious individuals.
Participants were 60 individuals with clinically impairing anxiety recruited for a larger
treatment study [see (Price et al., 2018); Table and Supplement].
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
fMRI task. As described in detail previously (Price et al., 2018) and adapted from
Somerville and colleagues (Somerville et al., 2013), participants were shown a total of eight 78s
blocks that were either “Negative,” containing a series of 10 negative/threatening images,
presented for 3s each, from the International Affective Picture Set (IAPS; (Lang, Bradley, &
Cuthbert, 2008)), or “Neutral,” consisting of 10 neutral IAPS images. Images were jittered with a
pseudorandom number of numerals relating to either a numerical countdown (e.g., 3-2-1)
(“Predictable” blocks) or a random string of numbers (“Unpredictable” blocks). Participants
were alerted by a 2s text cue, presented at the start of each block, as to the nature of the
upcoming block (e.g., “Predictable Negative”). To encourage continued attention to the images,
participants completed an incidental task by responding via button press to indicate whether each
image depicted an indoor or an outdoor scene.
fMRI acquisition and preprocessing. T2*-weighted images depicting BOLD contrast
(TR=2000;TE=28;flip angle=73°;slices=38;FOV=200x200;3.125x3.125x3.2mm voxels) were
acquired on a 3T Siemens Trio. Standard preprocessing steps were applied using Analysis of
Functional Neuroimaging (AFNI; see Supplement).
11 functionally defined ROIs were selected because they showed robust group-level
activations or deactivations to negative/threatening images during the task (map-wise p<.05; see
details in Supplement), ensuring that connectivity was quantified within a network relevant to the
processing of visual threat cues. To improve interpretability of findings, these 11 regions were
then classified based on their known functions (e.g.,Kaiser, Andrews-Hanna, Wager, & Pizzagalli,
2015; Laird et al., 2011) as belonging to networks predominantly relevant to affective processing
(AN), sensory processing, and executive control (ExN). See Supplement and Figure 1A for
details of ROI definitions. Mean, preprocessed timeseries data were extracted per-participant for
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
each ROI. Of 69 participants who completed the task, 9 (13%) were excluded from analysis due
to excessive motion during the task (>30% of timepoints showed framewise motion >0.2mm or
>0.2°). To further protect against spurious connectivity patterns related to motion, we removed
individual timepoints with framewise motion >0.2mm or >0.2° from analysis [which are then
accounted for during full information maximum likelihood estimation during GIMME; see (Beltz
& Gates, 2017)] and verified that participants’ motion parameters were unrelated to any finding
Directed connectivity and subgrouping. Directed paths (i.e., establishing which ROIs
statistically predict others) were derived for each individual in a data-driven fashion using S-
GIMME (Gates et al., 2017; Lane, Gates, & Molenaar, 2015), while controlling for
contemporaneous influences of the task on each ROI (i.e., threatening and neutral word blocks
convolved with a smoothed finite impulse response)(see (Gates, Molenaar, Hillary, &
Slobounov, 2011). Paths could be contemporaneous (marking prediction at the same TR) or
lagged (marking prediction from one TR to the next), or present for the full sample, only a
subgroup of the sample, or just for an individual. Large-scale simulations show that S-GIMME is
a valid and reliable connectivity mapping approach particularly when timeseries are long (as is
the case for fMRI data) and lagged autoregressive effects are modeled (as was done here) (Gates
et al., 2017; Lane et al., 2019)].
S-GIMME implements unified structural equation models (Kim, Zhu, Chang, Bentler, &
Ernst, 2007) and utilizes a Bayes net formulation. It first detects (only if they exist) lagged or
contemporaneous directed connections for the majority (defined here and in most simulations as
75%) of the sample. Next, it detects subgroups by using the individual-level estimates of these
group-level connections as well as anticipated estimates for candidate connections and
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
employing an ‘unsupervised’ community detection algorithm (i.e., Walktrap). These ‘shared’
patterns are defined based on their sign (positive/negative), significance (p<.05 vs. p>.05, after
Bonferroni correction for the number of subjects), direction of influence (e.g, region A->region
B), and temporal pattern (contemporaneous or lagged). If subgroups are identified, S-GIMME
then detects lagged or contemporaneous directed connections for the majority (defined here and
in most simulations as 50%) of a subgroup. Finally, S-GIMME iteratively detects (if they exist)
individual-level connections. The identification of all connections is based on LaGrange
Multiplier Equivalents, which indicate which connections (if added to a map) will maximally
increase the map’s explanatory power (i.e., model fit).
Characterization of subgroup connectivity. For each participant, S-GIMME generated
a connectivity map with group-level, subgroup-specific, and individual-level connections. To
understand the nature of the disparate connectivity patterns found across subgroups, subgroups
were characterized by the unique subgroup-level connections that were identified by the
algorithm, and by comparing the strength of each group-level path (excluding auto-regressive
paths) via independent t-tests (across subgroups) comparing individuals’ path beta weights, with
False Discovery Rate (FDR) correction.
External variables. Connectivity-based subgroups were compared across several
attentional bias indices described in detail previously [(Price, Brown, & Siegle, 2019; Price et al.,
In press); see details, missing data explanations, and resulting subgroup sample sizes for each
analysis in Supplement]. Briefly, a standard dot-probe task, consisting of threat-neutral word
pairs presented for short (500ms) and longer (1500ms) durations, was completed with concurrent
eyetracking. This task provided four indices for analysis, all of which demonstrated adequate-to-
strong psychometric reliability within this sample, as discussed in detail previously (Price et al.,
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
2019; Price et al., In press), which is critical given that attentional bias indices can be prone to
poor reliability (Price, Kuckertz, et al., 2015; Rodebaugh et al., 2016). Two were reaction time
indices that were derived following computational modeling [Drift Diffusion Modeling; (Ratcliff
& McKoon, 2008)] of trial-by-trial data from each individual dataset in order to separate the
attentional parameters of interest from incidental decision processes. Our previous publication in
the current sample (Price et al., 2019) illustrated marked improvement in split-half and test-retest
reliability for these attentional bias indices relative to conventional analysis methods for the dot-
probe; thus, we exclusively analyzed the DDM-derived dot-probe indices, which were quantified
separately for each of the two stimulus durations (short: 500ms and long: 1500ms), enabling us
to detect time-sensitive patterns consistent with the “vigilance-avoidance” hypothesis. Two
concurrently collected eyetracking indices reflected overt gaze patterns: initial fixation to threat
(as a % of all trials); and disengagement delay bias (see Supplement for further details). Both
overt/eyetracking indices demonstrated moderate split-half reliability in the present sample
[³.52; (Price et al., In press)]. Finally, a separate, widely used reaction time index of covert
attentional bias, the spatial cueing task (Bar-Haim, Morag, & Glickman, 2011; Price et al., In
press), was used to separately quantify biases in covert engagement and covert disengagement
from threat-related faces (see Supplement). The split-half reliability of the spatial cueing task
indices was strong in the present sample [³.86;(Price et al., In press)].
As a comparison, attentional bias variables were also compared across symptom-based
subgroups within the anxious participants (+/- generalized anxiety disorder, +/- comorbid
depression, primary distress- vs. fear-related disorder).
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
Connectivity maps. Group-level: At the group level, connectivity paths depicted in
Figure 1A were present, in addition to lagged autoregressions at every ROI. As expected, ROIs
behaved as a strongly interconnected network. All contemporaneous network influences were in
the positive direction, while two lagged influences were negative, and redundant with positive
contemporaneous paths, suggesting possible negative feedback mechanisms. No group-level
paths were found for task vectors (i.e., negative and neutral blocks) predicting ROI timeseries in
the context of the observed ROI-to-ROI network influences. Subgroups. Based on unsupervised
search for the optimal number of subgroups, two subgroups emerged (see Supplement for
subgroup quality analyses). Subgroup A contained 68% (n=41) of participants; hence, Subgroup
B (32% of participants; n=19) was considered to exhibit ‘atypical’ connectivity patterns relative
to the majority of anxious patients. Subgroup was unrelated to motion and other data quality
measures (Supplement). In t-tests, Subgroup A exhibited stronger connectivity than Subgroup B
in two specific group-level paths (Figure 1A; FDR p<.05): a ExN->sensory path (DMPFC-
>thalamus) and an ipsilateral occipital lobe (sensory) path. Similarly, the paths unique to each
subgroup (Figures 1B-C) were also consistent with additional unique influences connecting ExN
and sensory regions in Subgroup A. By contrast, there were multiple unique directed influences
of AN regions on sensory regions in Subgroup B, including three AN paths converging on the
External variables. Dot-probe reaction times. In a repeated-measures ANOVA with
subgroup as a between-subjects factor and stimulus duration (short vs. long) as a within-subjects
factor, a group*duration interaction effect on attentional bias scores was found (F1,58=7.75,
p=.007; Figure 2). Specifically, subgroup A showed a “typical,” theoretically hypothesized
vigilant-avoidant pattern of attention, as reflected in vigilance towards threat during short trials
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
followed by avoidance of threat during long trials (t40=2.39; p=.02). Subgroup B displayed an
inverse pattern reflecting greater sustained vigilance to threat during long trials. Dot-probe
eyetracking. Subgroup B had a higher percentage of trials with initial fixation to the threat cue
than Subgroup A, suggesting greater overt engagement with threat (t55=2.32; p=.02). The groups
did not differ on overt disengagement bias (t53=1.27; p=.21). Spatial cueing task reaction times.
Patients in Subgroup A had a more vigilant pattern of engagement with threat relative to
Subgroup B (t53=2.58; p=.01). The groups did not differ with respect to disengagement from
threat (t53=0.54; p=.59).
In aggregate, analyses suggested connectivity-based subgroups had external behavioral
relevance across multiple subdomains of attention, particularly for measures reflecting
engagement with (rather than disengagement from) threat, and pointed to a more theoretically
paradigmatic pattern of attention in Subgroup A relative to Subgroup B.
Symptom-category-based subgroups. Attentional indices did not show significant
differences across anxious participants with (n=50) vs. without (n=10) a generalized anxiety
disorder diagnosis (the most prevalent diagnosis in the current sample), with (n=18) vs. without
(n=42) comorbid depression diagnosis, or those with a primary distress-related (n=51) vs. a
primary fear-related diagnosis (n=9), with only one specific exception: individuals with a
comorbid depression diagnosis displayed a more vigilant pattern towards threat during long
duration dot-probe trials relative to individuals without a comorbid depression diagnosis
(t58=2.68; p=.01).
Connectivity subgroups and clinical measures. Connectivity subgroups were unrelated
to diagnosis-based subgroups, as defined above (
’s<.76, p’s>.39). Furthermore, connectivity
subgroups also did not predict clinical symptom severity on any of the Mood and Anxiety
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
Symptoms Questionnaire [MASQ; (Watson et al., 1995)] subscales: anxious arousal, anhedonic
depression, and general distress (p’s>.41). Thus, clinical phenotypes were not strongly linked to
connectivity-based subtypes in the current sample.
In the present study, a robust method was applied to characterize heterogeneous
individuals’ directed connectivity paths during threat and neutral image viewing (Gates et al.,
2017; Gates & Molenaar, 2012), revealing two brain-based subgroups of anxious individuals
(Figure 1). The majority of anxious patients in our sample (68%; Subgroup A) showed relatively
strong executive network influences on sensory processing regions (thalamus, occipital cortex),
relative to the smaller, “atypical” subgroup (Subgroup B). In contrast, Subgroup B was defined
by a larger number of directed influences from regions of the affective network onto sensory
regions—including three AN-driven paths converging on the thalamus, a sensory gating hub
(McCormick & Bal, 1994). Given the use of a robust and well-validated method (S-GIMME) for
subgroup identification, which is an ‘unsupervised’ approach that has been shown in simulated
data to arrive at accurate, complete, and stable subgroup solutions in total sample sizes as small
as N=25, the current study provides initial evidence that these two subtypes of neural network
patterns may well typify the larger population of anxious patients who share similar
characteristics (e.g., clinical, demographic, neurobiological) with the individuals in our sample.
The two unique neural network patterns exhibited by subgroups of anxious patients also
predicted unique attentional profiles at the behavioral level (Figure 2). Specifically, Subgroup A,
the more “executive-driven” subgroup, displayed a paradigmatic “vigilance-avoidance” pattern
on reaction time measures, which is consistent with influential theories of attentional processing
in anxiety (Mogg et al., 2004). Subgroup B exhibited an atypical and inconsistent pattern across
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
multiple measures of attentional bias, consistent with the multifaceted, neurobiologically
complex nature of attention (Peterson & Posner, 2012; Weierich et al., 2008), including greater
overt initial attention to threat (according to an eyetracking measure), accompanied by both
later/sustained vigilance to threat and decreased covert engagement with threat on a distinct
measure (Figure 2). Traditional diagnosis-based subgroups largely failed to predict distinct
attentional profiles in the current sample, and connectivity-based subgroups were also unrelated
to clinical variables (diagnostic subgroups, symptom scales), suggesting the connectivity-based
subgroups provided unique information that may have had stronger behavioral impact.
The field of attentional bias research has been fraught with mixed and inconsistent
findings, which may stem from a variety of sources including psychometric limitations of
widely-used behavioral indices (Price, Kuckertz, et al., 2015); inadequate dissection of the
relevant subcomponents of attention (Grafton & MacLeod, 2014; Price et al., In press); and
dominant theoretical and intervention models which presume anxious patients will exhibit fairly
uniform patterns of attentional bias relative to healthy individuals. Notably, in the present
analyses we utilized only attentional bias measures which we have previously demonstrated to
show adequate-to-strong reliability levels within this sample (Price et al., 2019; Price et al., In
press); thus, the divergent attentional profiles we uncovered are less likely to be heavily polluted
by measurement error, and more likely to reflect true heterogeneity that would be overlooked in
a conventional analysis averaging across anxious individuals.
The present findings suggest there is meaningful and consequential neural heterogeneity
expressed within this transdiagnostic sample with predominantly distress-related disorders (e.g.,
Generalized Anxiety Disorder; Table), and that these brain-based subgroups are predictive of
divergent attentional profiles that are complex and would be difficult to detect without first
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
parsing the sample on the basis of the neural patterns (or another impactful, independent
variable). In particular, divergent patterns exhibited by the “atypical” subgroup would dilute, and
thereby mask, the more paradigmatic patterns of attentional bias (e.g., vigilance-avoidance;
increased covert threat engagement) that were indeed displayed by the majority subset.
Conversely, while with increasing sample sizes the dominant attentional profile exhibited by the
majority would likely emerge as a detectable pattern at the full-group level (as in meta-analyses,
e.g. (Bar-Haim et al., 2007), this approach would mask the significant minority of anxious
patients who deviate from it systematically.
Our findings suggest multiple novel conclusions regarding the neural substrates of
anxiety and attentional bias that highlight future avenues for replication and extension. First, the
vigilance-avoidance model posits that bottom-up attentional capture by threat-related cues is
insurmountable in the early, relatively automatic stages of processing, but is then strategically
overcome and reversed (in favor of avoidance of threat) once stimuli are presented for a
sufficiently long duration (Mogg et al., 2004). The connectivity subgroup that was associated
with this pattern of attention in the current sample displayed additional directed influences of
executive control regions (DMPFC, parietal cortex) over sensory processing regions (thalamus,
occipital cortex; Figure 1B). Thus, the subgroup’s behavioral patterns may reflect that, when
anxious patients have enhanced prefrontal control of sensory processing at their disposal, they
may apply it in the service of threat avoidance at later stages of stimulus processing. Future
studies are needed to determine if this link between neural connectivity and attentional threat
avoidance is related to subsequent maintenance of anxiety in the long-term (e.g., Price, Allen, et
al., 2016).
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
Subgroup B, by contrast, exhibited numerous unique directed paths from AN regions to
sensory regions, with a particular preponderance of AN-driven paths converging on the
thalamus—a region with a central role in gating the sensory information that will be passed on
for further, elaborative processing (McCormick & Bal, 1994). Interestingly, this subgroup also
exhibited increased initial overt eye fixations to threat cues, relative to Subgroup A. Thus, AN-
driven influences on sensory processing regions—which included AN-driven paths to both
thalamus and occipital cortex—might be a corollary of increased overt eye saccades to threat
during early stages of attention. According to reaction time measures, this subset of individuals
also became increasingly attentive to threat cues over time (i.e., after longer presentation
intervals on the dot-probe task), suggesting that this subgroup’s unique AN influences on the
thalamus might reflect affectively driven ‘tagging’ of threat cues to be retained as foci of
attention during later, more elaborative stages of processing. Of note, no significant differences
across subgroups were observed on either of two [overt (eyetracking) and covert (spatial cueing)]
threat disengagement indices, suggesting difficulties with disengagement from threat were
relatively homogeneous within the current sample—as were the numerous directed influences
apparent across brain regions in group-level (i.e., homogenous) paths (Figure 1A).
Overall, findings suggest that, while numerous influences across brain regions were
robustly characteristic of the full sample of anxious patients (as reflected in group-level paths),
unique patterns of neural connectivity, which distinguished one anxious subgroup from the other,
were impactful in predicting attentional profiles measured on a distinct, external battery of tasks.
This novel, data-driven taxonomy of anxious neural subtypes, which is based on proximal neural
processes that support affective visual information processing, may have a tighter coupling with
behavioral information processing patterns relative to symptom-based categories (e.g.,
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
diagnoses—which were unrelated to both connectivity subgroups and nearly all attentional
indices), and might extend to other, unassessed domains of information processing with clinical
relevance. With regard to diagnostic subgroups, patients with comorbid depressive diagnoses
exhibited greater attentional bias towards threat during long-duration dot-probe trials—which is
consistent with an existing literature suggesting attentional biases characterize depressed patients
predominantly at later stages of processing (de Raedt & Koster, 2010; Gotlib & Joormann,
2010). However, no other link was found between diagnostic subgroups and any attentional
pattern examined. While this may lend preliminary support to the unique utility of connectivity-
based subtyping, larger and more heterogeneous transdiagnostic samples are necessary to
adequately test this hypothesis—particularly given previous reports of attentional patterns that
were moderated by specific anxiety diagnoses (Salum et al., 2012).
Findings have possible clinical implications for mechanistic treatments targeting
attentional patterns. By highlighting the divergent attentional profiles of subgroups, the study
suggests no one-size-fits-all approach to attentional remediation is likely to have a robust impact
on symptoms across all anxious patients. However, with further replication and extension of the
observed subgroups in larger validation samples, the present approach could eventually prove
useful in matching specific subgroups of patients to specific attention retraining batteries, e.g., to
automated interventions that explicitly target executive deficits vs. perceptually-driven
aberrations (Best, Milanovic, Iftene, & Bowie, 2019). With an eye towards clinical translation,
connectivity-based subtypes might also help to define a set of complex attentional profiles
(exhibited across a battery of simple behavioral attentional measures) that would best reflect
underlying neural subtypes, but may nevertheless be measurable without the need for cost-
prohibitive fMRI assessment. Refinements to attention modification procedures might be
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
informed by such future work. For instance, modification procedures might be made more
clinically impactful if they are designed to target such complex profiles by simultaneously
retraining multiple attentional subfeatures (e.g., vigilance and avoidance; overt and covert
attention). Furthermore, a nuanced understanding of connectivity-based subtypes could ideally
prove useful in designing synergistic treatment combinations that can leverage both neural (e.g.,
neuromodulation; neurofeedback) and behavioral (e.g., attention retraining) components of
information processing simultaneously to optimize behavioral and clinical effects (Wilkinson,
Holtzheimer, Gao, Kirwin, & Price, 2019).
The present sample did not include healthy comparison participants, and, though
participants were recruited transdiagnostically, the sample included a preponderance of distress-
related disorder (e.g., Generalized Anxiety Disorder) patients. Future work should explore the
degree to which connectivity-based subtypes overlap across healthy and disordered states, and
across a wider range of affective diagnoses. In our previous work applying S-GIMME to a
sample that included both depressed patients and healthy controls, patient status (healthy vs.
depressed) tracked statistically with data-driven connectivity-based subgroups, but did not
overlap perfectly with it (Price, Lane, et al., 2017). In particular, the connectivity-based subgroup
that contained the majority of depressed patients also contained 50% of rigorously screened
healthy controls. If a similar pattern were to emerge for anxious patients and controls when
adopting a focus on threat processing, such findings would suggest interesting novel avenues for
understanding potential latent risk factors and the nature of resilience or compensatory factors
among healthy controls who overlap neurobiologically with anxious patients. Alternatively, if
anxious and healthy subgroups were more cleanly divergent from one another when using data-
driven connectivity-based grouping, it would suggest connectivity-based subgroups may be
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
useful biomarkers that could potentially improve classification algorithms for clinical diagnosis
by explicitly accounting for patient heterogeneity, as previously suggested in depression research
(Drysdale et al., 2017).
Limitations. Connectivity subgroups were unrelated to available clinical measures
(diagnostic subtypes, continuous self-report measures) in the present dataset. Although the
ability to detect such relationships may have been constrained by the specific diagnostic
composition and/or small sample sizes of the present sample, these null relationships could also
limit clinical applications of the current findings if subtypes can only be identified via less
clinically available measures (i.e., fMRI and/or attention bias assessments). Nevertheless, our
general S-GIMME approach shows relevance in the current analysis to transdiagnostic
behavioral profiles in anxiety, and thus could be readily tested in future studies for its clinical
utility in predicting, for example, treatment response to conventional treatment options for
anxiety (e.g., psychotherapy, medications), particularly if more generalized forms of fMRI
connectivity (e.g, resting state)—rather than strictly the connectivity patterns relevant to threat
processing/attention measures per sewere incorporated as alternative (or additional) inputs to
S-GIMME. Our research group’s use of S-GIMME in patient samples to date suggests that
quantifying directed connectivity during both the resting state (Price, Gates, et al., 2017) and two
distinct task states [threat processing, in the current study; and positive mood induction (Price,
Lane, et al., 2017)] can yield subgroups that differ on external, clinically relevant variables.
Future work may benefit from incorporating connectivity patterns drawn from multiple fMRI
tasks/states into a unitary clustering algorithm, in an effort to consolidate the unique information
contained in each type of connectivity data into a single overarching classification scheme.
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
S-GIMME relies on accurate specification of a relevant network of ROIs. Results may
have differed with the inclusion of different regions in the connectivity models and/or with a
different fMRI task design, particularly given that the functional network of ROIs was identified
based on task activation patterns, which may have been sensitive to the overall sample size. Our
sample size of N=60 was well-powered to detect fMRI activations of medium-to-large, but not
small, effect size. The relatively small subgroup sample sizes (particularly Subgroup B) also
constrained power for comparisons on external variables and may increase risk of both Type I
and Type II error. The clinical utility of connectivity-based subgroups (e.g., patient sub-
classification for treatment assignment) is contingent upon establishing the robustness of these
subgroups in additional samples, and across time. In particular, although S-GIMME subgroup
solutions are robust and stable in simulated datasets as small as N=25, a direct empirical test of
subgroup stability and characteristics, both within and across anxious samples, is needed to build
further confidence in the current findings.
Conclusions. Our data-driven, brain-based categorization approach suggested that
transdiagnostic anxiety can be parsed into two unique subtypes, even among an anxious sample
with predominantly distress-related disorders. The two connectivity-based subgroups generalized
to external behavioral measures, displaying divergent patterns according to multiple indices of
attentional bias—a widely studied, transdiagnostic, clinically relevant behavioral marker of
anxiety. While a more executive-driven pattern of influences on sensory regions was predictive
of a relatively paradigmatic attentional profile [vigilance-avoidance; covert engagement bias;
(Mogg et al., 2004)], a sizable minority displayed a more affectively-driven pattern of sensory
processing, which was predictive of a divergent and atypical attentional profile (e.g.,
late/sustained vigilance in reaction times, coupled with greater initial orienting to threat in overt
Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
eyetracking). DSM-based subgroups did not robustly predict attentional patterns or connectivity
subtypes, suggesting the connectivity-based subgroups provided unique, clinically relevant
information that may inform efforts to both characterize and mechanistically target attentional
patterns in anxiety. Connectivity-based subgrouping, a novel extension of biological subtyping,
could provide new insights into the diverse pathways that lead to anxiety—and, consequently,
the diverse intervention pathways that may lead back to adaptive functioning.
Authorship Statement. R.B.P. and G.J.S. developed the study concept and contributed to the
study design. Testing and data collection were performed by R.B.P., L.C., and D.G. R.B.P.,
A.M.B., and M.L.W. performed the data analysis and interpretation. R.B.P. drafted the paper. All
authors provided revisions and approved the final version of the paper for submission.
Acknowledgement. This research was supported by NIH Career Development Award
K23MH100259 (Price). We gratefully acknowledge Kathleen Gates, PhD for her assistance with
this work.
Financial Disclosures. The authors reported no biomedical financial interests or potential
conflicts of interest.
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Connectivity Subtypes Predict Attentional Profiles in Anxiety
Table. Demographic and Clinical Characteristics of the Transdiagnostic Anxiety Sample
Caucasian, n (%)
31 (63%)
Female, n (%)
38 (78%)
30.07 (9.70)
Anxiety diagnoses met, n (%):
Specific Phobia
50 (83%)
22 (37%)
12 (20%)
7 (12%)
6 (10%)
4 (7%)
Comorbid depressive disorder, n (%)
18 (30%)
Primary distress-related anxiety diagnosis, n (%)
51 (85%)
Number of anxiety diagnoses
1.72 (1.04)
Self-report symptom indices
MASQ: Anxious Arousal
32.65 (10.82)
MASQ: General Distress
58.77 (16.26)
MASQ: Anhedonic Depression
74.30 (11.52)
65.95 (9.34)
Note: Data presented as mean (SD) unless otherwise noted. PSWQ=Penn State Worry Questionnaire; MASQ=Mood
and Anxiety Symptoms Questionnaire; GAD=Generalized Anxiety Disorder; SAD=Social Anxiety Disorder;
PTSD=Posttraumatic Stress Disorder; OCD=Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder; NOS=Not Otherwise Specified.
Figure 1: (A) Functional regions of interest represented as nodes in rough anatomical space. Nodes of the affective network (AN) are
presented in blue; sensory processing regions in green; and executive network (EN) in purple. Group-level directed
connectivity paths between regions are depicted with arrows. Black, solid arrows represent positive, contemporaneous paths;
red, dashed arrows represent negative, lagged paths. Brown, solid arrows represent positive, contemporaneous paths present in
the whole group, but significantly stronger in Subgroup B (corrected for multiple comparisons). Not shown: positive, lagged
autoregressive paths were also present for every region.
(B) Directed connectivity paths unique to subgroup A (green/solid=positive, contemporaneous path; red/dashed=negative, lagged
path), superimposed on group-level connectivity map (in grey).
(C) Directed connectivity paths unique to subgroup B (in green), superimposed on group-level connectivity map (in grey).
Figure 1
1A: Group-level paths
R Insula
L Parietal
R Parietal
R Occipital
L Insula
L Occipital
1B: Subgroup A paths
R Insula
L Parietal
R Parietal
R Occipital
L Insula
L Occipital
R Insula
L Parietal
R Parietal
R Occipital
L Insula
L Occipital
1C: Subgroup B paths
Figure 2: Behavioral attention bias indices as a function of connectivity-based subgroups (Subgroup A: blue gradient; Subgroup B:
solid orange). All attention bias measures are quantified on a continuum such that higher/more positive scores indicate
increasing vigilance to threat cues, while lower/more negative scores indicate relative avoidance of threat cues. Top left panel:
dot-probe reaction time bias scores after applying drift-diffusion modeling (in seconds); top right panel: spatial cueing task
reaction time bias scores (in milliseconds); bottom left panel: % of trials with initial overt eye fixation made to threat cue
during dot-probe task (as % of all trials); bottom right panel: bias in the delay to disengage overt eye gaze from threat vs.
neutral cues during dot-probe task (units = eyetracking samples; 1 unit=16.7ms). P-values displayed reflect all significant
(p<.05) and trend-level (p<.10) effects according to t-tests.
Figure 2
Dot-probe RT bias: short trials Dot-probe RT bias: long trials
Subgroup A Subgroup B
Spatial cueing: engagement bias Spatial cueing: disengagement bias
Dot-probe eyetracking: initial fixation
Dot-probe eyetracking: disengagement bias
Avoidant Vigilant
Avoidant Vigilant
Avoidant Vigilant
More Vigilant
Price et al. Supplement
Neural Connectivity Subtypes Predict Discrete Attentional Bias Profiles
Among Heterogeneous Anxiety Patients
Supplemental information
Supplemental Methods & Materials ....................................................................................... 2!
Participants ........................................................................................................................... 2!
fMRI Preprocessing ............................................................................................................. 3!
Region of Interest Definitions .............................................................................................. 3!
Handling and Impact of Motion During Scanning ............................................................. 6!
Further Methodological Details on Indices of Overt and Covert Attention Bias ............. 7!
Sources of Missing Data ................................................................................................... 10!
Supporting Findings ........................................................................................................... 10!
Analyses of Model Fits ...................................................................................................... 10!
Supplemental References ..................................................................................................... 12!
Price et al. Supplement
Supplemental Methods & Materials
Participants were recruited and enrolled from 03/2013-11/2016, stopping when the target
randomization sample of 70 participants was obtained. Inclusion criteria specified that
participants: 1) be between the ages of 18 and 55 years; 2) score >=45 on the Spielberger State-
Trait Anxiety Inventory—trait form, a clinically relevant cut-point that statistically maximizes
discrimination between clinical and non-clinical anxiety (1) and eliminates the bottom ~84% of a
typical healthy control distribution (2); and 3) score >=75th percentile on the World Health
Organization Disability Assessment Schedule 2.0—clinician-rated version, a percentile that is
characteristic of individuals with one or more mental disorders (3).
Exclusion criteria included the following: 1) current medication or Cognitive-Behavioral
Therapy for anxiety or depression; 2) failure to meet standard Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
safety criteria; 3) pregnancy, determined by pregnancy tests on females; 4) currently suicidal or
at risk for harm to self or others; 5) visual disturbance (<20/40 as per the Snellen test, corrective
lenses allowed); 6) <6th grade reading level as per the Wide Range Achievement Test; 7)
presence of bipolar, psychotic, autism spectrum, substance dependence, or primary depressive
disorder; 8) positive urine drug test.
These criteria produced a study sample in which 93% of randomized participants had one
or more diagnosed anxiety disorder at baseline (mean=2.10 DSM-IV-TR disorders), while the
remaining 7% (n=5) captured ‘diagnostic orphans’ with clinically significant anxiety and associated
impairment but who did not meet full criteria for any DSM-IV-TR anxiety disorder. Diagnoses were
established by experienced master’s-level (or higher) clinicians using the MINI International
Neuropsychiatric Interview.
The study was approved by the Internal Review Board of the University of Pittsburgh and
was pre-registered at (NCT02303691).
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fMRI Preprocessing
The following preprocessing steps were applied, as described in more detail previously
(4): slice time correction, cross-registration of functional data to a high-resolution structural scan
acquired in the same fMRI session (axial MPRAGE: TR=2100; TE=3.31; 176 slices; flip
angle=8°; FOV=256x208; 1mm isotropic voxels), 6-parameter motion correction, linear
detrending to correct drift, conversion to percent change, 32-parameter nonlinear warping to the
Montreal Neurological Institute Colin-27 brain data set, spatial smoothing [6-mm full width half
Region of Interest Definitions
Network nodes were defined based on task activation/deactivation maps for the Negative
image block (sustained) and event (transient) regressors across the full sample. The mixed
block/event-related task design and regression analyses were optimized in previous research (5)
to allow estimation of transient responses to each image type embedded within the sustained
response to each overarching block type. At the single-subject level, transient and sustained
responses were modeled simultaneously using box-car regressors for each block type (Negative
Predictable, Negative Unpredictable, Neutral Predictable, Neutral Unpredictable) and finite
impulse response functions over 20sec to flexibly model responses to each transient image
(separate Negative-Transient and Neutral-Transient regressors), along with nuisance covariates
(e.g., motion parameters). As in prior work (5), an area under the curve (AUC) was computed for
each transient regressor to capture the magnitude of transient response from 2-6 TRs (4-12secs)
after each image presentation as the sum of finite impulse response function beta weights derived
at each of the relevant timepoints (4-12s post-stimulus onset) in response to transient images of
each type (negative, neutral). Beta-weights for sustained block-type regressors and AUCs for
transient event-related regressors were then averaged for each emotional image type (negative
Price et al. Supplement
and neutral) and subjected to one-sample t-tests (t-value vs. 0) at each voxel, applying multiple
comparisons correction to hold map-wise p<.05 [voxel-wise p<.001, map-wise multiple
comparisons correction via AFNI’s 3dclustsim utilizing the spatial autocorrelation function (‘-acf’)
option; (6)]. The resulting clusters of activation (or deactivation) to negative task inputs that were
significant at the group level were converted to region-of-interest spheres centered on the peak
voxel from the activated cluster, using sphere radii of 8-12mm, selected according to the
maximum radius that approached but did not significantly transgress the boundaries of the
functional cluster. This approach ensured the ROIs closely approximated the size, shape, and
location of each functional cluster, while simultaneously ensuring each ROI was spatially and
anatomically distinct and non-contiguous with all others in the model. In the case of regions that
were significantly modulated by both block (sustained) and event (transient) regressors, the peak
voxel locations from the block-type analysis were used.
Timeseries data were then extracted from each spherical ROI for each participant, and
along with vectors specifying Negative and Neutral task-related timepoints (convolved with a finite
impulse response), subjected to connectivity analyses with S-GIMME (as described in main text).
These connectivity analyses are based on the covariance structure across regions for each
individual, computed across the full timeseries, and thus are distinct from the task-based, group-
mean analyses used to define ROIs functionally; the inclusion of the task-based vectors in the S-
GIMME analyses confirmed that task-related findings were not driving results. Applying S-GIMME
to regions of interest that were robustly functionally modulated by the negative task inputs allowed
us to characterize the connectivity within a network of regions that was most relevant to visual
threat processing within this sample, while retaining our focus on the identification of individual
differences in the covariance (connectivity) patterns across this network of interacting regions that
were stable across all portions of the task and reflected region-to-region influences present above
and beyond the influence of specific external (task-related) inputs. See Table S1 and Figure S1
below for ROI details.
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Table S1. Analysis of regional response to sustained blocks of negative images and/or event-
related negative image presentations across full sample
Note: Coordinates for each cluster’s peak voxel are presented in Talairach space. Findings are
from unrestricted whole brain analysis with voxel-wise error rate p <.001; map-wise corrected
error rate p < .05 via AFNI’s 3dClustSim, utilizing the spatial autocorrelation function (‘-acf’)
option. This approach provides accurate Type I error control (6). DMPFC=dorsomedial
prefrontal cortex; pgACC=perigenual anterior cingulate cortex.
Location of peak voxel
Network label (in Figure
1A, main text)
Activated regions:
negative blocks > 0
1: L occipital
L middle occipital gyrus
Sensory Processing
2: R occipital
R middle occipital gyrus
Sensory Processing
L medial frontal gyrus
Executive Network (ExN)
4: R insula
R insula
Affective Network (AN)
5: L insula
L insula
Affective Network (AN)
6: Thalamus
Sensory Processing
7: L Parietal
L inferior parietal lobule
Executive Network (ExN)
8: R Parietal
R inferior parietal lobule
Executive Network (ExN)
activated regions:
negative events > 0:
9: L amygdala
L amygdala
Affective Network (AN)
10: R amygdala
R amygdala
Affective Network (AN)
Deactivated regions:
negative events < 0:
11: pgACC
L anterior cingulate
Affective Network (AN)
Price et al. Supplement
Figure S1. Anatomical placement of spherical ROIs (as numbered in Table S1 above)
Handling and Impact of Motion During Scanning
Of 69 participants who completed the task, 9 (13%) were excluded from analysis due to
excessive motion during the task (defined as >30% of timepoints showed framewise motion
>0.2mm or >0.2°). Participants with vs. without usable imaging data from the task did not differ
on any demographic variable presented in the Table (main text; p’s>.38), but those who were
excluded due to excessive motion reported significantly less depression and general distress (per
MASQ subscales) and less worry (PSWQ) (all ps<.05), suggesting the final analyzed sample was
more severely affected by mood and anxiety symptoms relative to those who were excluded for
motion. Thus, our findings may generalize more readily to the more severe end of the spectrum
of affective dysfunction.
To further protect against spurious connectivity patterns related to motion, we removed
individual timepoints with framewise motion >0.2mm or >0.2° from analysis. These timepoints
(6.7% of data) were marked as missing data and accounted for using full information maximum
likelihood estimation during the S-GIMME procedure to further safeguard against spurious
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(motion-induced) connectivity. While similar to ‘scrubbing’ (i.e. deleting timepoints), this approach
maintains the temporal ordering of scans.
Although this approach mitigates the influence of motion on connectivity patterns (7), we
further verified that motion did not influence findings. Across 6 motion parameters calculated for
each participant (maximum change from baseline across each of 6 movement planes: roll, pitch,
yaw, right-left, front-back, up-down), movement did not differ significantly as a function of
connectivity subgroup according to a MANOVA omnibus test (p=.11). Furthermore, no finding of
subgroup differences on attentional bias indices reported in the main text were altered after
covarying the average degree of motion across the 6 parameters and/or the percentage of
timepoints that were scrubbed for micromovement for each participant.
Further Methodological Details on Indices of Overt and Covert Attention Bias
Dot-probe task and eyetracking. Eyetracking indices were collected during an assessment
dot-probe task. Ten idiographic threat words capturing the primary foci of anxiety were selected
collaboratively by the participant and a clinical interviewer, and were subsequently matched
ideographically, on both subjective familiarity ratings and word length, to 10 neutral words drawn
from a larger normative corpus used previously in ABM research (e.g., 18). To supplement this
idiographic list with words pertinent to a broader and more generalized range of threat-related
content, these idiographic words lists were supplemented by 20 threat words and 20 neutral words
from the normative corpus. During each of 300 trials, word pairs (80% threat-neutral; 20% neutral-
neutral) were presented vertically for either 500ms (150 trials) or 1500ms (150 trials; in random
order), followed by a probe (‘E’ or ‘F’) in either the upper or lower word location. The probe
replaced either the threat or neutral word with equal likelihood. Participants responded via button
press to indicate the probe letter displayed. All text (words and probes) was presented in 14pt
font, with the distance between the upper and lower screen position transcending a visual angle
of 2°.
Price et al. Supplement
The dot-probe task was administered individually in a quiet, moderately lit room on a
monitor at ~68cm from the participant using Eprime software running on a PC. Eyetracking data
were collected during the task using a table-mounted RK-768 eye-tracker, consisting of a video
camera and infrared light source pointed at a participant’s eye and a device that tracked the
location and size of the pupil and corneal reflection at 60 Hz (every 16.7 ms). As previously
described (19,20), data cleaning and preprocessing were applied in Matlab. Blinks were
automatically identified and corrected using interpolation. Prior to the task, the eyetracker was
calibrated using a 9-point sequential fixation task. Gaze position during the dot-probe task was
scaled and offset based on each individual’s calibration parameters. Hand quality-checking was
performed offline to ensure accurate registration of each participant’s gaze position to the two
relevant screen positions (upper/lower) at the time that accurate responses to the probe in each
of these positions were made. Participants (baseline: n=2; post-treatment: n=2; 1-month follow-
up: n=2) whose data quality was deemed poor were excluded from all subsequent eyetracking
Eye fixations were defined as eye positions stable within of visual angle for at least
100ms. Trials comprised of less than 25% fixation or with incorrect probe responses were
removed from analysis. Fixations were then used to identify, for each individual: 1) trials in which
the first (initial) fixation that was made following word pair onset fell within a region-of-interest
defined by the threat word’s screen position (an index of engagement); and 2) trials in which the
participant’s fixation, at the time of probe onset (i.e., just when the word pair was replaced by a
probe), fell in the opposite word location from where the probe appeared (thus requiring
disengagement from one location and an overt eye movement in order to respond to the probe
accurately). These trials were separately identified as requiring disengagement from the threat
word location (disengage-threat) or disengagement from the neutral word location (disengage-
neutral). A minimum of 5 usable trials of each type (disengage-threat and disengage-neutral) was
required in order for eyetracking data to be deemed usable at a given assessment point. Among
Price et al. Supplement
included participants/sessions, an average of 38 trials per participant were available to generate
overt disengagement bias scores.
Spatial cueing task. The emotional spatial cueing task was developed as a modification of
covert attentional probes widely used in basic cognitive research to distinguish covert from overt
attentional processes (21). It was identical to the task used in a prior study (22) and similar to
emotional spatial cueing tasks used widely in attention research. In brief, participants were
instructed to rest their eyes on a central fixation cross which remains on-screen throughout the
task, to discourage overt eye movements. Consistent with a large literature utilizing this task to
assess covert attention, compliance with this instruction was not explicitly assessed, but task
features (e.g., placement of large, unambiguous spatial probes well within the field of peripheral
vision) encourage compliance. On each trial, a single face was presented either left or right of the
fixation cross located at the center of the screen. Face stimuli consisted of 12 different actors
(50% male) displaying neutral or angry expressions from the NimStim stimulus set (23). After a
500ms pause, two black rectangle frames appeared to the left and right of the cross, one of which
framed either a neutral or an angry face. After 500ms, the face was removed and a target (a star)
appeared for 200ms at the center of one of the two rectangles. 75% of the trials were “valid” trials,
meaning the target appeared at the location of the face cue, while the remaining 25% of the trial
targets were “invalid”, meaning the target appeared on the opposite side of the screen.
Participants pressed one of two buttons on a keyboard to indicate the location of the star. The
next trial began 1,800ms after target offset. A beep tone was played to indicate an incorrect
response or no response within the response window.
The task commenced with 8 practice trials comprised of 2 trials per condition. The
participant could elect to repeat the practice as needed. 192 trials (96 of each emotion type) were
then presented across two blocks. 25% of the trials of each emotion type were invalid cues and
75% were valid cues.
Price et al. Supplement
Sources of Missing Data
Of 70 participants in the study, 69 completed the MRI task, and 60 of these met our criteria
for usable data within motion limits (see main text). Of these 60 participants included in the
connectivity-based subgrouping, the following numbers of participants had unusable data on
specific attentional bias indices and were excluded from those specific analyses only: n=3 had
unusable eyetracking data due to equipment failure (n=1) or due to poor eyetracking quality
according to hand quality-checking procedures performed offline (n=2); an additional n=2 had
unusable overt disengagement bias scores because they did not meet the minimum of 5 usable
trials of each type (disengage-threat and disengage-neutral) necessary for calculating this
disengagement score from eyetracking data; n=5 did not complete the spatial cueing task due to
time constraints. The total subgroup sample sizes with available data on each external variable
(attentional bias) measure are detailed below.
Table S2.
Outcome measure Subgroup A Subgroup B
Dot-probe RTs n=41 n=19
Dot-probe eyetracking: initial fixation n=38 n=19
Dot-probe eyetracking: disengagement n=36 n=19
Spatial cueing RTs n=38 n=17
Supporting Findings
Analyses of Model Fits
S-GIMME results were assessed for robustness (e.g., potential over-fitting; see (24)) by
evaluating the covariance matrices of the error terms and standard errors of the estimated
Price et al. Supplement
connection parameters. A small proportion of the maps (i.e., 17%, or 10/60) had a high error
variance associated with a single ROI. However, these maps were not more likely to belong to
participants in Subgroup A (19.5%) or B (10.5%; c2=0.76, p=.39), and removal of participants from
the inferential analyses (i.e., comparisons of subgroups on attentional bias indices, etc.) did not
alter the pattern or statistical significance of any result presented in the main text. These
conservative sensitivity analyses suggest that the reported findings were robust to possible
variations in model fitting, which are common in time series and covariance structural modeling
(see (25)).
Price et al. Supplement
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... A recent review of network modeling approaches shows that GIMME is receiving a growing interest as an analytical tool to understand the causal relationships between brain networks (Robinaugh, Hoekstra, Toner, & Borsboom, 2020). S-GIMME applied to rs-fMRI has been fruitful in identifying subtypes in cognitive task ability (McCormick & Telzer, 2018), accurately distinguishing depressed patients from healthy individuals (Price et al., 2017b), and revealing major depressive disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and transdiagnostic internalizing psychiatric disorder and personality subtypes (Chahal et al., 2020;Lazarus, Sened, & Rafaeli, 2020;Price, Gates, Kraynak, Thase, & Siegle, 2017a;Price et al., 2020). However, no studies to date have leveraged this datadriven approach to identify neural subtypes of comorbid PTSD/ AUD individuals or to treatment response (Gilpin & Weiner, 2017). ...
... Biomarkers to aid diagnosis and treatment response are few, potentially requiring patients to cycle through multiple failed treatment trials, increasing suffering and resource expenditures. Neuroimaging-based biotyping has had recent success in predicting external measures of functioning and clinical outcomes using standard functional connectivity (Drysdale et al., 2017;Etkin et al., 2019) and with effective connectivity measures Price et al., 2020). Leveraging data-driven approaches to biotype clinical heterogeneity may better capture the complex symptom presentation of PTSD/AUD and thus be a more robust treatment response biomarker and aid in clinical decision making. ...
Full-text available
Background Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD) are highly comorbid and are associated with significant functional impairment and inconsistent treatment outcomes. Data-driven subtyping of this clinically heterogeneous patient population and the associated underlying neural mechanisms are highly needed to identify who will benefit from psychotherapy. Methods In 53 comorbid PTSD/AUD patients, resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging was collected prior to undergoing individual psychotherapy. We used a data-driven approach to subgroup patients based on directed connectivity profiles. Connectivity subgroups were compared on clinical measures of PTSD severity and heavy alcohol use collected at pre- and post-treatment. Results We identified a subgroup of patients associated with improvement in PTSD symptoms from integrated-prolonged exposure therapy. This subgroup was characterized by lower insula to inferior parietal cortex (IPC) connectivity, higher pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pgACC) to posterior midcingulate cortex connectivity and a unique pgACC to IPC path. We did not observe any connectivity subgroup that uniquely benefited from integrated-coping skills or subgroups associated with change in alcohol consumption. Conclusions Data-driven approaches to characterize PTSD/AUD subtypes have the potential to identify brain network profiles that are implicated in the benefit from psychological interventions – setting the stage for future research that targets these brain circuit communication patterns to boost treatment efficacy.
... Specifically, the BOLD time series for each participant was submitted to group iterative multiple model estimation (GIMME), which has been validated in extensive largescale simulations (e.g., 41). Details can be found in tutorials (42,43) and empirical applications (e.g., 6,44,45). Briefly, GIMME uses a data-driven approach based on Lagrange Multiplier tests to add directed contemporaneous (same-volume) or lagged (from one volume to the next) connections to participants' null networks (with no connections). ...
Full-text available
Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are the most-used reversible contraceptive method for women in the world, but little is known about their potential modulation of brain function, cognition, and behavior. This is disconcerting because research on other hormonal contraceptives, especially oral contraceptives (OCs), increasingly shows that exogenous sex hormones have behavioral neuroendocrine consequences, especially for gendered cognition, including spatial skills. Effects are small and nuanced, however, partially reflecting heterogeneity. The goal of this paper is to introduce IUD use as a new frontier for basic and applied research, and to offer key considerations for studying it, emphasizing the importance of multimodal investigations and person-specific analyses. The feasibility and utility of studying IUD users is illustrated by: scanning women who completed a functional magnetic resonance imaging mental rotations task; taking an individualized approach to mapping functional connectivity during the task using network analyses containing connections common across participants and unique to individual women, focusing on brain regions in putative mental rotations and default mode networks; and linking metrics of brain connectivity from the individualized networks to both mental rotations task performance and circulating hormone levels. IUD users provide a promising natural experiment for the interplay between exogenous and endogenous sex hormones, and they are likely qualitatively different from OC users with whom they are often grouped in hormonal contraceptive research. This paper underscores how future research on IUD users can advance basic neuroendocrinological knowledge and women’s health.
... This is especially true for rapid event-related designs, such as the current study's design, because the hemodynamic response function is longer than the interstimulus interval. It is also borne out by simulations using GIMME on task data (Duffy et al., 2021;Gates et al., 2011) and in empirical studies that modeled task regressors in GIMME and found little evidence for their substantial modulating effects on connectivity (Hillary et al., 2014;Price et al., 2020). Given this evidence, we focus on the connectivity among regions during a motivational state rather than modeling modulation by specific task phases (e.g., during individual gain or loss events). ...
Adolescent risk-taking, including sensation seeking (SS), is often attributed to developmental changes in connectivity among brain regions implicated in cognitive control and reward processing. Despite considerable scientific and popular interest in this neurodevelopmental framework, there are few empirical investigations of adolescent functional connectivity, let alone examinations of its links to SS behavior. The studies that have been done focus on mean-based approaches and leave unanswered questions about individual differences in neurodevelopment and behavior. The goal of this paper is to take a person-specific approach to the study of adolescent functional connectivity during a continuous motivational state, and to examine links between connectivity and self-reported SS behavior in 104 adolescents (MAge = 19.3; SDAge = 1.3). Using Group Iterative Multiple Model Estimation (GIMME), person-specific connectivity during two neuroimaging runs of a monetary incentive delay task was estimated among 12 a priori brain regions of interest representing reward, cognitive, and salience networks. Two data-driven subgroups were detected, a finding that was consistent between both neuroimaging runs, but associations with SS were only found in the first run, potentially reflecting neural habituation in the second run. Specifically, the subgroup that had unique connections between reward-related regions had greater SS and showed a distinctive relation between connectivity strength in the reward regions and SS. These findings provide novel evidence for heterogeneity in adolescent brain-behavior relations by showing that subsets of adolescents have unique associations between neural motivational processing and SS. Findings have broader implications for future work on reward processing, as they demonstrate that brain-behavior relations may attenuate across runs.
... However, since the nature of these automatic processes is undetermined, future studies that seek to investigate differential aspects of cognitive processes should consider controlling for mental operations during the scanning session. Addressing this issue will be especially pertinent to researchers and clinicians interested in applying such methods to patient populations, given the attentional and state-dependent biases of psychopathology (63)(64)(65)(66)(67)(68). ...
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Representational similarity analysis (RSA) is a popular multivariate analysis technique in cognitive neuroscience that uses functional neuroimaging to investigate the informational content encoded in brain activity. As RSA is increasingly being used to investigate more clinically-geared questions, the focus of such translational studies turns toward the importance of individual differences and their optimization within the experimental design. In this perspective, we focus on two design aspects: applying individual vs. averaged behavioral dissimilarity matrices to multiple participants' neuroimaging data and ensuring the congruency between tasks when measuring behavioral and neural representational spaces. Incorporating these methods permits the detection of individual differences in representational spaces and yields a better-defined transfer of information from representational spaces onto multivoxel patterns. Such design adaptations are prerequisites for optimal translation of RSA to the field of precision psychiatry.
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Diversity and variation in language experiences, such as bilingualism, contribute to heterogeneity in children’s neural organization for language and brain development. To uncover sources of such heterogeneity in children’s neural language networks, the present study examined the effects of bilingual proficiency on children’s neural organization for language function. To do so, we took an innovative person-specific analytical approach to investigate young Chinese-English and Spanish-English bilingual learners of structurally distinct languages. Bilingual and English monolingual children (N = 152, M(SD)age = 7.71(1.32)) completed an English word recognition task during functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) neuroimaging, along with language and literacy tasks in each of their languages. Two key findings emerged: first, bilinguals’ heritage language proficiency (Chinese or Spanish) made a unique contribution to children’s language network density. Second, the findings reveal common and unique patterns in children’s patterns of task-related functional connectivity. Common across all participants were short-distance neural connections within left hemisphere regions associated with semantic processes (within middle temporal and frontal regions). Unique to more proficient language users were additional long-distance connections between frontal, temporal, and bilateral regions within the broader language network. The study informs neurodevelopmental theories of language by revealing the effects of heterogeneity in language proficiency and experiences on the structure and quality of emerging language neural networks in linguistically diverse learners.
Early childhood language experiences influence how a child’s mind and brain process language and acquire literacy. For children growing up bilingual, their two languages interact in their minds, and these cross-linguistic influences can lead to unique neurocognitive mechanisms for language and reading compared to monolinguals. In this dissertation, I asked: how does early bilingualism impact children’s cognitive and neural organization for learning to read? To address this question, this dissertation includes three inter-related studies of behavioral and functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) neuroimaging assessments with young Chinese-English bilingual, Spanish-English bilingual, and English monolingual children (N = 283, ages 5-11). Children completed language and literacy tasks in each of their respective languages while their parents completed questionnaires on children’s language use. Studies 1 and 2 revealed that bilingual children processed English words in a way that reflected their proficiency with the characteristics of their heritage language – in particular, Chinese bilinguals relied more on meaning-based skills, whereas Spanish bilinguals on sound-based skills, to read English words (Study 1); and in both groups, higher heritage language proficiency is associated with stronger activations in the left temporal brain region when processing English words (Study 2). Study 3 further revealed that bilinguals with stronger dual language proficiency formed more widespread neural connections within the neural network for language processing. Taken together, the findings suggest that heritage language influences children’s literacy development and emerging neural organization for learning to read and these bilingual influences reflect children’s experiences and proficiency with both of their languages. These findings thus inform theories of bilingualism and literacy instruction for children from diverse socio-linguistic backgrounds.
Averages dominate developmental science: There are representative groups, mean trajectories, and generalizations to typical children. Nearly all parents and teachers, however, eagerly proclaim that few youth are average; each child, adolescent, and young adult is unique. Indeed, individual youth are the focus of many eminent developmental theories, yet there is a shocking paucity of developmental methods—including study designs and analysis techniques—that truly afford individual-level inferences. Thus, the goal of this chapter is to explicate the advantages of an idiographic approach to developmental science, that is, an approach that provides insight into individual youth, often by studying within-person variation in intensive longitudinal data, such as densely coded observations, repeated daily or momentary assessments, and functional neuroimages. In three domains across development, the chapter illustrates the benefits of an idiographic approach by comparing empirical conclusions offered by traditional mean-based analysis techniques versus techniques that leverage the temporal and individualized nature of intensive longitudinal data. The chapter then concentrates on group iterative multiple model estimation (GIMME), which is an analysis technique that uses intensive longitudinal data to create youth-specific temporal networks, detailing how brain regions or behaviors are directionally related across time. The promise of GIMME is exemplified by applications to three different domains across development. The chapter closes by encouraging future idiographic developmental science to consider how research questions, study designs, and data analyses can be formed, implemented, and conducted in ways that optimize inferences about individual—not average—youth.
Bilingualism influences children’s cognition, yet bilinguals vary greatly in their dual-language experiences. To uncover sources of variation in bilingual and monolingual brain function, the present study used standard analysis and innovative person-specific connectivity models combined with a data-driven grouping algorithm. Children (ages 7–9; N = 52) completed a visuo-spatial attention task while undergoing functional near-infrared spectroscopy neuroimaging. Both bilingual and monolingual groups performed similarly, and engaged bilateral frontal and parietal regions. However, bilinguals showed greater brain activity than monolinguals in left frontal and parietal regions. Connectivity models revealed two empirically-derived subgroups. One subgroup was composed of monolinguals and bilinguals who were more English dominant, and showed left frontal-parietal connections. The other was composed of bilinguals who were balanced in their dual-language abilities and showed left frontal lobe connections. The findings inform how individual variation in early language experiences influences children’s emerging cortical networks for executive function, and reveal efficacy of data-driven approaches.
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The goal of this study was to compare brain structure between individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and healthy controls. Previous studies have generated inconsistent findings, possibly due to small sample sizes, or clinical/analytic heterogeneity. To address these concerns, we combined data from 28 research sites worldwide through the ENIGMA-Anxiety Working Group, using a single, pre-registered mega-analysis. Structural magnetic resonance imaging data from children and adults (5–90 years) were processed using FreeSurfer. The main analysis included the regional and vertex-wise cortical thickness, cortical surface area, and subcortical volume as dependent variables, and GAD, age, age-squared, sex, and their interactions as independent variables. Nuisance variables included IQ, years of education, medication use, comorbidities, and global brain measures. The main analysis (1020 individuals with GAD and 2999 healthy controls) included random slopes per site and random intercepts per scanner. A secondary analysis (1112 individuals with GAD and 3282 healthy controls) included fixed slopes and random intercepts per scanner with the same variables. The main analysis showed no effect of GAD on brain structure, nor interactions involving GAD, age, or sex. The secondary analysis showed increased volume in the right ventral diencephalon in male individuals with GAD compared to male healthy controls, whereas female individuals with GAD did not differ from female healthy controls. This mega-analysis combining worldwide data showed that differences in brain structure related to GAD are small, possibly reflecting heterogeneity or those structural alterations are not a major component of its pathophysiology.
Resting state functional connectivity (RSFC) in ventral affective (VAN), default mode (DMN) and cognitive control (CCN) networks may partially underlie heterogeneity in depression. The current study used data-driven parsing of RSFC to identify subgroups of patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD; n=70) and determine if subgroups generalized to transdiagnostic measures of cognitive-affective functioning relevant to depression (indexed across self-report, behavioral, and molecular levels of analysis). RSFC paths within key networks were characterized using Subgroup-Group Iterative Multiple Model Estimation. Three connectivity-based subgroups emerged: Subgroup A, the largest subset and containing the fewest pathways; Subgroup B, containing unique bidirectional VAN/DMN negative feedback; and Subgroup C, containing the most pathways. Compared to other subgroups, subgroup B was characterized by lower self-reported positive affect and subgroup C by higher self-reported positive affect, greater variability in induced positive affect, worse response inhibition, and reduced striatal tissue iron concentration. RSFC-based categorization revealed three TRD subtypes associated with discrete aberrations in transdiagnostic cognitive-affective functioning that were largely unified across levels of analysis and were maintained after accounting for the variability captured by a disorder-specific measure of depressive symptoms. Findings advance understanding of transdiagnostic brain-behavior heterogeneity in TRD and may inform novel treatment targets for this population.
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Considerable effort and funding have been spent on developing Attention Bias Modification (ABM) as a treatment for anxiety disorders, theorized to exert therapeutic effects through reduction of a tendency to orient attention toward threat. However, meta-analytical evidence that clinical anxiety is characterized by threat-related attention bias is thin. The largest meta-analysis to date included dot-probe data for n = 337 clinically anxious individuals. Baseline measures of biased attention obtained in ABM RCTs form an additional body of data that has not previously been meta-analyzed. This article presents a meta-analysis of threat-related dot-probe bias measured at baseline for 1,005 clinically anxious individuals enrolled in 13 ABM RCTs. Random-effects meta-analysis indicated no evidence that the mean bias index (BI) differed from zero (k = 13, n = 1005, mean BI = 1.8 ms, SE = 1.26 ms, p = .144, 95% confidence interval [-0.6, 4.3]. Additional Bayes factor analyses also supported the point-zero hypothesis (BF10 = .23), whereas interval-based analysis indicated that mean bias in clinical anxiety is unlikely to extend beyond the 0 to 5 ms interval. Findings are discussed with respect to strengths (relatively large samples, possible bypassing of publication bias), limitations (lack of control comparison, repurposing data, specificity to dot-probe data), and theoretical and practical context. We suggest that it should no longer be assumed that clinically anxious individuals are characterized by selective attention toward threat. Clinically anxious individuals enrolled in RCTs for Attention Bias Modification are not characterized by threat-related attention bias at baseline. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
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Biased patterns of attention towards threat are implicated as key mechanisms in anxiety which can be modified through automated intervention (Attention Bias Modification; ABM). Intervention refinement and personalized dissemination efforts are substantially hindered by gaps in understanding the precise attentional components that underlie ABM’s effects on symptoms—particularly with respect to longer-term outcomes. Seventy adults with transdiagnostic anxiety were randomized to receive 8 sessions of active ABM (n=49) or sham training (n=21). Reaction time and eyetracking data, collected at baseline, post-training, and 1-month follow-up, dissociated multiple core attentional processes, spanning overt and covert processes of engagement and disengagement. Self-reported symptoms were collected out to 1-year follow-up. Covert disengagement bias was specifically reduced by ABM, unlike all other indices. Overt disengagement bias at baseline predicted acute post-ABM outcomes, while covert engagement bias was non-specifically predictive of symptom trajectories out to 1-year follow-up. Results suggest unique and dissociable roles for each discrete mechanism.
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Background: Biased patterns of attention are implicated as key mechanisms across many forms of psychopathology and have given rise to automated mechanistic interventions designed to modify such attentional preferences. However, progress is substantially hindered by limitations in widely used methods to quantify attention, bias leading to imprecision of measurement. Methods: In a sample of patients who were clinically anxious (n = 70), we applied a well-validated form of computational modeling (drift-diffusion model) to trial-level reaction time data from a two-choice "dot-probe task"-the dominant paradigm used in hundreds of attention bias studies to date-in order to model distinct components of task performance. Results: While drift-diffusion model-derived attention bias indices exhibited convergent validity with previous approaches (e.g., conventional bias scores, eye tracking), our novel analytic approach yielded substantially improved split-half reliability, modestly improved test-retest reliability, and revealed novel mechanistic insights regarding neural substrates of attention bias and the impact of an automated attention retraining procedure. Conclusions: Computational modeling of attention bias task data may represent a new way forward to improve precision.
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Until recently, therapeutic development in psychiatry was targeted solely toward symptom reduction. While this is a worthwhile goal, it has yielded little progress in improved therapeutics in the last several decades in the field of mood disorders. Recent advancements in our understanding of pathophysiology suggests that an impairment of neuroplasticity may be a critical part of the development of neuropsychiatric disorders. Interventions that enhance or modulate neuroplasticity often reduce depressive symptoms when applied as stand-alone treatments. Unfortunately, when treatments are discontinued, the disease state often returns as patients relapse. However, treatments that enhance or modulate plasticity not only reduce symptom burden, but also may provide an opportune window wherein cognitive or behavioral interventions could be introduced to harness a state of enhanced neuroplasticity and lead to improved longer-term clinical outcomes. Here, we review the potential of synergistically combining plasticity-enhancing and behavioral therapies to develop novel translational treatment approaches for depression. After reviewing relevant neuroplasticity deficits in depression, we survey biological treatments that appear to reverse such deficits in humans, including N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor modulators (ketamine, D-cycloserine), electroconvulsive therapy, and transcranial brain stimulation. We then review evidence that either directly or indirectly supports the hypothesis that a robust enhancement of neuroplasticity through these methods might promote the uptake of cognitive and behavioral interventions to enhance longer-term treatment outcomes through a synergistic effect. We identify key missing pieces of evidence and discuss future directions to enhance this emerging line of research.
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Background: Considerable effort and funding are spent on developing Attention Bias Modification (ABM) as a treatment for anxiety disorders. ABM is theorized to exert therapeutic effects through reduction of an increased attentional bias towards threat. Yet, the available meta-analytical evidence for the common assertion that clinical anxiety is characterised by this treat-related attentional bias is thin: the largest meta-analysis to date included n=337 clinically anxious individuals. We propose that baseline measurements in clinical ABM RCTs constitute a hitherto not assessed additional body of data on magnitude of biased attention in clinically anxious samples.Method: We meta-analysed baseline dot-probe assessed bias for 1005 clinically anxious individuals enrolled in ABM RCTs.Results: REML analysis indicated no evidence that mean bias index (BI) differs from zero (k= 13, n= 1005, mean BI = 1.8 ms, SE = 1.26 ms, p = .144, 95% CI [-0.6 - 4.3]. Additional Bayes factor analyses also supported the traditional point-nil hypothesis (BF10 = .23), whereas additional interval-based analysis indicated it unlikely that mean bias in clinical anxiety extends beyond the 0 to 5 ms interval. Discussion: We discuss our findings with respect to strengths (larger samples, possible bypassing of publication bias), limitations (lack of control comparison, repurposing data), and theoretical and practical context. We suggest that it may be prudent to no longer classify anxious samples as being characterized by bias. Conclusion: Clinically anxious individuals enrolled in RCTs for Attention Bias Modification are not characterized by attentional bias towards threat at baseline.
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Objective: Clinical anxiety is prevalent, highly comorbid with other conditions, and associated with significant medical morbidity, disability, and public health burden. Excessive attentional deployment toward threat is a transdiagnostic dimension of anxiety seen at both initial and sustained stages of threat processing. However, group-level observations of these phenomena mask considerable within-group heterogeneity that has been linked to treatment outcomes, suggesting that a transdiagnostic, individual differences approach may capture critical, clinically relevant information. Method: Seventy clinically anxious individuals were randomized to receive 8 sessions of attention bias modification (ABM; n = 41 included in analysis), a computer-based mechanistic intervention that specifically targets initial stages of threat processing, or a sham control (n = 21). Participants completed a mixed block/event-related functional MRI task optimized to discriminate transient from sustained neural responses to threat. Results: Larger transient responses across a wide range of cognitive-affective regions (e.g., ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, amygdala) predicted better clinical outcomes following ABM, in both a priori anatomical regions and whole-brain analyses; sustained responses did not. A spatial pattern recognition algorithm using transient threat responses successfully discriminated the top quartile of ABM responders with 68% accuracy. Conclusions: Neural alterations occurring on the relatively transient timescale that is specifically targeted by ABM predict favorable clinical outcomes. Results inform how to expand on the initial promise of neurocognitive treatments like ABM by fine-tuning their clinical indications (e.g., through personalized mechanistic intervention relevant across diagnoses) and by increasing the range of mechanisms that can be targeted (e.g., through synergistic treatment combinations and/or novel neurocognitive training protocols designed to tackle identified predictors of nonresponse). (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved).
Enduring cognitive models of anxiety posit that negative biases in information processing are implicated in the etiology, maintenance, and recurrence of anxiety disorders in youth and adults. Specifically, the vigilance-avoidance model of attention is an influential hypothesis proposed to explain anxious individuals’ attentional patterns. The vigilance-avoidance model posits that anxious individuals, relative to nonanxious individuals, initially orient more quickly to threatening stimuli and then later avoid threatening stimuli. However, a large body of empirical research examining attentional mechanisms in anxious individuals uses paradigms that do not allow the measurement of the time course of attention. Furthermore, existing reviews that examine the time course of attention only include studies with adults. We systematically review in depth the literature that compares anxious and non-anxious children that takes advantage of research designs that allow the examination of the time course of attention. Across studies, there is not robust support for the vigilance-avoidance model in samples of anxious youth. Future research examining attention biases across time should employ tasks that more directly measure multiple stages of attention, in order to assess if vigilance-avoidance patterns emerge based on sample characteristics or task variables, and to inform intervention efforts.
Objective:: Cognitive remediation is an efficacious treatment for schizophrenia. However, different theoretical approaches have developed without any studies to directly compare them. This is the first study to compare the two dominant approaches to cognitive remediation (training of executive skills and training of perceptual skills) and employed the broadest assessment battery in the literature to date. Methods:: Outpatients with schizophrenia spectrum disorders were randomly assigned to receive either executive training or perceptual training. Electrophysiological activity, neurocognition, functional competence, case manager-rated community functioning, clinical symptoms, and self-report measures were assessed at baseline, immediately after treatment, and at a 12-week posttreatment follow-up assessment. Results:: Perceptual training improved the EEG mismatch negativity significantly more than executive training immediately after treatment, although the effect did not persist at the 12-week follow-up. At the follow-up, executive training improved theta power during an n-back task, neurocognition, functional competence, and case manager-rated community functioning to a greater extent than perceptual training. These effects were not observed immediately after treatment. Conclusions:: Both perceptual training and executive training improved neurophysiological mechanisms specific to their domains of intervention, although only executive training resulted in improvement in neurocognition and functioning. Improvements in favor of executive training did not appear immediately after treatment but emerged 12 weeks after the end of active treatment. Thus, short-term intervention targeting higher-order cognitive functions may prime further cognitive and functional improvement.
Objective Emotional eating has been linked to ovarian hormone functioning, but no studies to‐date have considered the role of brain function. This knowledge gap may stem from methodological challenges: Data are heterogeneous, violating assumptions of homogeneity made by between‐subjects analyses. The primary aim of this paper is to describe an innovative within‐subjects analysis that models heterogeneity and has potential for filling knowledge gaps in eating disorder research. We illustrate its utility in an application to pilot neuroimaging, hormone, and emotional eating data across the menstrual cycle. Method Group iterative multiple model estimation (GIMME) is a person‐specific network approach for estimating sample‐, subgroup‐, and individual‐level connections between brain regions. To illustrate its potential for eating disorder research, we apply it to pilot data from 10 female twins (N = 5 pairs) discordant for emotional eating and/or anxiety, who provided two resting state fMRI scans and hormone assays. We then demonstrate how the multimodal data can be linked in multilevel models. Results GIMME generated person‐specific neural networks that contained connections common across the sample, shared between co‐twins, and unique to individuals. Illustrative analyses revealed positive relations between hormones and default mode connectivity strength for control twins, but no relations for their co‐twins who engage in emotional eating or who had anxiety. Discussion This paper showcases the value of person‐specific neuroimaging network analysis and its multimodal associations in the study of heterogeneous biopsychosocial phenomena, such as eating behavior.
Intensive longitudinal data provide psychological researchers with the potential to better understand individual-level temporal processes. While the collection of such data has become increasingly common, there are a comparatively small number of methods well-suited for analyzing these data, and many methods assume homogeneity across individuals. A recent development rooted in structural equation and vector autoregressive modeling, Subgrouping Group Iterative Multiple Model Estimation (S-GIMME), provides one method for arriving at individual-level models composed of processes shared by the sample, a subset of the sample, and a given individual. As this algorithm was motivated and validated for use with neuroimaging data, its performance is less understood in the context of ambulatory assessment data. Here, we evaluate the performance of the S-GIMME algorithm across various conditions frequently encountered with daily diary (compared to neuroimaging) data; namely, a smaller number of variables, a lower number of time points, and smaller autoregressive effects. We demonstrate, for the first time, the importance of the autoregressive effects in recovering data-generating connections and directions, and the ability to use S-GIMME with lengths of data commonly seen in daily diary studies. We demonstrate the use of S-GIMME with an empirical example evaluating the general, shared, and unique temporal processes associated with a sample of individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Finally, we underscore the need for methods such as S-GIMME moving forward given the increasing use of intensive longitudinal data in psychological research, and the potential for these data to provide novel insights into human behavior and mental health.