“A new study by experimental psychologists from the University of Bristol has examined whether cognitive bias modification (CBM) for facial interpretation, a digital health intervention that changes our perception for emotional expressions from negative to positive, might be useful in treating depression.
We all occasionally focus on the negative rather than the positive, and sometimes ruminate over a negative event, but a consistent tendency to perceive even ambiguous or neutral words, faces, and interactions as negative (a negative bias), may play a causal role in the onset and rate of relapse in depression…A growing field of psychological interventions known as cognitive bias modification (CBM) propose that by modifying these negative biases it may be possible to intervene prior to the onset of depression…
The study’s lead author, Sarah Peters, who is a PhD student at the University of Bristol’s School of Experimental Psychology and Biomedical Research Centre, said: “We wanted to test a novel CBM paradigm which has previously shown robust bias modification effects, but for which the impact on mood and mood-relevant measures was unclear”…There was some evidence that daily stressful events were perceived as less stressful by those in the intervention group post-CBM, weaker evidence for reduced feelings of pleasure in the intervention group, and some exploratory evidence for greater improvements seen by individuals with higher anxiety at baseline.
Peters added: “Overall, it’s unlikely that this procedure in its current design will impact on clinically-relevant symptoms. However, the small effects observed still warrant future study in larger and clinical samples. Given the large impact and cost of mood disorders on the one hand, and the relatively low cost of providing CBM training on the other, clarifying whether even small effects exist is likely worthwhile.”
Cognitive bias modification for facial interpretation: a randomized controlled trial of transfer to self-report and cognitive measures in a healthy sample (Royal Society Open Science)
- Abstract: Cognitive bias modification is a potential low-intensity intervention for mood disorders, but previous studies have shown mixed success. The current study explored whether facial interpretation bias modification (FIBM), a similar paradigm designed to shift emotional interpretation (and/or perception) of faces would transfer to: a) self-reported symptoms, and b) a battery of cognitive tasks. In a preregistered, double-blind randomised controlled trial, healthy participants received eight online sessions of FIBM (N=52) or eight sham sessions (N=52). While we replicate that FIBM successfully shifts ambiguous facial expression interpretation in the intervention group, this failed to transfer to the majority of self-report or cognitive measures. There was, however, weak, inconclusive evidence of transfer to a self-report measure of stress, a cognitive measure of anhedonia, and evidence that results were moderated by trait anxiety (whereby transference was greatest in those with higher baseline symptoms). We discuss the need for work in both larger and clinical samples, whilst urging caution that these FIBM training effects may not transfer to clinically relevant domains.
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