One of the symptoms of anxiety and depression is the tendency to view things negatively, or with a negative bias. People with anxiety show bias toward perceived threats, assuming situations that would otherwise be seen as neutral as potentially harmful. People suffering with depression do not interpret these same situations as threatening, yet have difficulty moving their attention away from negative thoughts. Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM) is a therapeutic technique that aims to change the bias of these individuals immediately after exposure to a situation or event. Previous research has shown that when negative stimuli were introduced to healthy individuals, they developed a negative cognitive bias. Researchers theorize that perhaps exposing individuals with a pre-existing negative bias to positive stimuli could transform the perception into one of a positive nature, thus reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression in people who are resistant to other forms of treatment, such as traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
“Given the large number of patients who remain symptomatic after receiving first-line treatments for anxiety and mood disorders, the novel approach taken by CBM and its potential to assist patients who are not helped by conventional treatments has generated a groundswell of enthusiasm,” said Lauren S. Hallion of the University of Pennsylvania, and lead author of a recent study that tested the effects of CBM on clients with depression and anxiety. Hallion and her colleagues looked at 45 separate studies to determine the effectiveness of CBM immediately after it was implemented, and how it affected symptoms after a stressor was introduced. They found that although CBM showed a positive effect on symptoms after the clients underwent treatment, it was relatively minor. However, they realized that after a stressor was introduced, CBM had a much more profound positive effect. Because CBM targets different biases than CBT, the researchers believe both approaches may be helpful. They added, “If both types of biases contribute to symptoms, and if CBM can in fact modify early attention biases, a conjoint approach involving modification of both types of biases may produce a larger effect on symptoms than would addressing either alone.”
Hallion, L. S., & Ruscio, A. M. (2011, July 4). A Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Cognitive Bias Modification on Anxiety and Depression. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024355
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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