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Dr. Samantha Farris Receives NIH Grant Supplement to Examine Attentional Bias and Exercise Anxiety in Cardiac Rehabilitation

Principal Investigator, Dr. Samantha Farris, of the Psychology Department in the School of Arts and Sciences received a notice of award from NIH’s National Institute on Aging in September 2022 for her proposal “Development of a Novel Exercise Threat Attentional Bias Assay.” Along with her co-investigators, Dr. Teresa Leyro of the Psychology Department, Dr. Angelo DiBello [https://alcoholstudies.rutgers.edu/people/leadership/dr-angelo-m-dibello/] of the Center for Alcohol and Substance Use Studies in the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, and Dr. Brandon Alderman [ https://alcoholstudies.rutgers.edu/people/leadership/brandon-alderman/] of the Department of Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Farris aims to improve exercise engagement in the context of cardiac rehabilitation. This project serves to supplement Dr. Farris’s larger R01 project “A Tailored Exposure Intervention Targeting Exercise Anxiety and Avoidance in Cardiac Rehabilitation” that is currently testing a novel intervention for individuals in cardiac rehabilitation. The intervention, Behavioral Exposure for Interoceptive Tolerance (BE-FIT), is a manualized, cognitive-behavioral intervention for the management of exercise anxiety in people receiving cardiac rehabilitation. Broadly, BE-FIT targets exercise anxiety by helping people manage physiological symptoms such as increased high rate and shortness of breath that can lead to psychological distress and concerns related to their health. This newly funded supplement will add to the parent study by allowing for examination of deficits in information processing that contribute to avoidance of cardiac activity. Specifically, this proposal will examine the role of attentional bias toward threat as it relates to exercise anxiety and, ultimately, exercise engagement. To achieve these aims, Dr. Farris and her colleagues will develop and validate a Stroop task specifically assessing attentional bias toward exercise and medical-related stimuli in which attentional bias will be measured by comparing performance on a visual task in which participants are presented with medical and exercise-oriented cues as well as neutral cues. Performance on this task will be compared to existing measures and activity engagement. Following development and validation, attentional bias toward exercise threat will be evaluated as a mechanism of action for both initiation and maintenance of exercise for patients enrolled in BE-FIT. Further, this supplement will assess how attentional bias via this newly developed task changes over the course of the BE-FIT intervention. Findings from the parent grant and supplement will inform care for individuals in cardiac rehabilitation and interventions for health behavior engagement more broadly.