Study finds limited benefits from cognitive bias modification (CBM) training, calls for further research

Faces along a pos­i­tive-neu­tral to neg­a­tive-neu­tral spec­trum, and a sad face, from Peters et al. (2017)‘s CBM for facial inter­pre­ta­tion train­ing. Cred­it: Uni­ver­si­ty of Bristol

Could cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tions be use­ful in treat­ing depres­sion? (Sci­ence News):

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.”

The Study

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.

The Study in Context

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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