Modifying Negative Bias To Treat Depression Questioned By Study


Occasionally, we may walk away from a social encounter feeling that a certain person dislikes us, or we might find ourselves dwelling on a perceived negative comment. This is a common human experience.

However, people who consistently interpret neutral or ambiguous words, facial expressions, and comments negatively have what is called a negative bias, and it may be a factor in depression onset.

A newer treatment intervention named cognitive bias modification (CBM) alters negative biases to prevent the onset, or recurrence of depressive symptoms. While early studies found CBM promising for bias modification, recent research at the University of Bristol questions the efficacy of CBM for depression.

“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,” said the study's lead author, Sarah Peters, a Ph.D. student at the University of Bristol's School of Experimental Psychology and Biomedical Research Centre.

Peters and colleagues had two aims for their study. One was confirming that CBM shifts the way people interpret social cues. The second was determining whether the shift would affect clinical depression outcomes.

The study included self-reported mental health questionnaires, and tasks to determine negative versus neutral bias, the ability to experience pleasure, and bias-related tasks under both safe and stressful conditions.

The data showed that CBM successfully shifted bias from negative to positive, but the evidence for improved mood was inconclusive. The CBM procedure did not affect most mood disorder measures, though it had some beneficial effect for people with high baseline anxiety, and on the perception of stressful events.

“Overall, it's unlikely that this procedure in its current design will impact on clinically-relevant symptoms,” says Peters. “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.”

Source: Science Daily
Photo credit: John Benson


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