Psychologists from the University of Bristol has examined whether a growing field of psychological interventions that is 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.
Many of a time people walk off a social discussion feeling uncomfortable or anxious. This may be due to they disliked by the person they are talking with, or else they said something negative and this is what people could keep in mind about the interaction.
We often focus on the negative rather than the positive and sometimes even cogitate over negative. But a consistent tendency to perceive even ambiguous or neutral words, faces, and interactions as negative, may initially play a causal role and later rate of fall in depression.
CBM proposed that by modifying these negative biases it may be possible to intervene prior to the onset of depression.
The study, testing a new CBM paradigm, questions these previous positive findings.
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.”
She further explained, “We do these to test potential new interventions before we offer them to individuals seeking treatment. Even if we show that a task is shifting your bias and we think that’s relevant to mood disorders, what matters is whether it impacts mood-related outcomes and shows clinical utility.”
Authors had two specific objectives. Firstly, they aimed to replicate previous findings to confirm that the intervention could indeed shift the emotional interpretation of faces. Could they make their participants see negative faces as more positive?
Secondly, they were interested in whether this shift in interpretation would impact on clinically relevant outcomes such as self-reported mood symptoms.
The cognitive tasks included a dot-probe task to measure selective attention towards negative (versus neutral) emotional words, a motivation for rewards task which has been shown to measure anhedonia (the loss of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities), and a measure of stress-reactivity (whereby individuals complete a simple task under two conditions: safe and under stress).
They added final task because it is thought that the negative biases they were interested in modifying are more pronounced when an individual is under stress.
While the intervention successfully shifted the interpretation of facial expressions (from negative to positive), there was only inconclusive evidence of improved mood and the CBM procedure failed to impact most measures.
Numerous shreds of evidence as 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.”