Matilda Nowakowski: Changing thinking patterns for persons with social anxiety

Individuals with social anxiety have a tendency to focus on negative or threatening stimuli in the environment (called “attention bias”) and to interpret ambiguous social situations negatively (called “interpretation bias”). These biases are believed to play a key role in the development and maintenance of social anxiety disorder.

To explore this concept further PhD candidate Matilda Nowakowski plans to compare two approaches for modifying interpretation biases (computerized interpretation training and cognitive restructuring) in individuals with social anxiety. She’ll monitor these participants for changes in thinking, behavioural reactions, and physiological (i.e., heart rate and sweating) patterns.

In our latest Student Spotlight, EENet’s Bonnie Polych profiles Matilda and her research project.

Read it below or download the PDF.

What you need to know

Matilda’s research is focused on social anxiety and the tendency for individuals with this disorder to focus on negative or threatening interpretations of their environment.  She will be investigating the effects of computerized interpretation training and face to face cognitive restructuring on thinking and behavioural patterns in individuals with social anxiety.

About Matilda

Matilda Nowakowski is a doctoral candidate in the clinical psychology program at Ryerson University who was first captivated by the study of psychology in her earliest undergraduate courses.

She completed a PhD in experimental psychology in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience, & Behaviour at McMaster University, under the supervision of Dr. Louis A. Schmidt. In Dr. Schmidt’s Child Emotion Laboratory, she worked on various projects examining the role of mother-child interactions and temperament on internalizing disorders. 
Matilda summarized her interest in research: “The whole research process is very rewarding and dynamic in nature, right from the research design through to conference presentations.” 

Matilda knew this type of work is what she wanted to do and her academic journey has brought her back to her home town of Hamilton. She is currently completing her pre-doctoral clinical psychology internship at St. Joseph's Healthcare, Hamilton, in the Anxiety Treatment and Research Centre and the Mood Disorders Program. 

As part of this internship Matilda recently gave a presentation entitled “Psychology in the 21st Century: The use of technology in the treatment of depression and anxiety” for the St. Joseph’s Healthcare, Hamilton, Clinical Psychiatry Rounds. The session was an extension of her research and identified ways in which technology can be used in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Matilda’s key message was that “technology is rapidly developing and as clinicians we need to be aware of this and how it might benefit our clients.  But we also need to be aware of some of the limitations of this technology, including privacy and ethical considerations.”   

In her current research, Matilda is focusing on identifying factors involved in the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders across the lifespan as well as identifying the mechanisms of cognitive-behavioural therapy that make it effective for treating anxiety. 

“We know cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is effective for treating anxiety, but we want to understand how these changes occur and what factors help clients to change and respond to CBT treatment,” Matilda explained.  

Matilda has presented her research at numerous national and international conferences and has also published several empirical papers and book chapters within the area of anxiety disorders. Her research has been recognized by various national and provincial funding agencies, including the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Ontario Mental Health Foundation, the Ontario Graduate Scholarship Program, and the Canadian Psychological Association Foundation Student Research Grant.  

What Matilda’s research is about

Individuals with social anxiety have a tendency to focus on negative or threatening stimuli in the environment (called “attention bias”) and to interpret ambiguous social situations negatively (called “interpretation bias”).  These biases are believed to play a key role in the development and maintenance of social anxiety disorder.

To explore this concept further Matilda will compare two approaches for modifying interpretation biases (computerized interpretation training and cognitive restructuring) in individuals with social anxiety. She’ll monitor these participants for changes in thinking, behavioural reactions, and physiological (i.e., heart rate and sweating) patterns.

How this research can be used

Matilda’s research will provide insight into the mechanisms behind social anxiety disorder and may play a role in the development of new treatments. Some of these new approaches could be attention training applications for smart phones, tablets, and other mobile devices, that may make it easier for clients with anxiety to access treatment. This research also may add validity to treatments that are already available for this condition.

What is next for Matilda

In September 2014, Matilda will be starting a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychology at St. Joseph’s Healthcare, Hamilton, and the Department of Gastroenterology at McMaster University.  She will develop and evaluate a cognitive-behavioural therapy group treatment for patients with irritable bowel syndrome.

Matilda’s career goal is to work as a clinical psychologist in an academic medical centre where she can combine her passions for clinical work and research, examining both the factors responsible for causing and maintaining mental illness and the mechanisms that make cognitive-behavioural therapy effective.

For more information about Matilda’s research please contact her at mnowakow [at] stjosham [dot] on [dot] ca.

Journal articles 

Nowakowski, M.E., & Antony, M.M. (2013). Reactions to teasing in social anxiety. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 37, 1091-1100. 
Nowakowski, M.E., Schmidt, L.A., Cunningham, C.E., McHolm, A.E., Edison, S., St. Pierre, J., Boyle, M.H., &Tasker, S.L. (2010). Joint attention in parent-child dyad involving children with selective mutism: A comparison with anxious and typically developing children. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 42, 78-92. 
Nowakowski, M.E., Cunningham, C.E., McHolm, A., Evans, M.A., Edison, S., St. Pierre, J., Boyle, M.H, & Schmidt, L.A.. (2009). Language and academic abilities in children with selective mutism.  Infant and Child Development.18, 271-290. 

Project Title: Modifying interpretation biases in social anxiety: Effects on subjective, behavioural, and physiological measures of anxiety
Project Supervisor:  Dr. Martin M. Antony, Professor, Department of Psychology, Ryerson University

Author: Bonnie Polych
Date: April 28, 201

 

 

 

 

 

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