The program you’re completing is a type of intervention called Cognitive Bias Modification, and it is designed to change how you think in response to situations that make you feel anxious or upset.
Cognitive biases are tendencies to pay attention to, remember, and interpret things differently when processing information tied to your emotional responses. For example, sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether something that happens is good or bad. Our tendency to interpret these ambiguous events as positive or negative can happen very rapidly and even without us being aware of our interpretation, so it can be difficult to catch these thinking habits, even though a tendency to routinely interpret things in negative ways can make us feel more anxious or sad. That’s where cognitive bias modification might help.
Cognitive Bias Modification works by giving people lots of practice processing information in new ways to help develop healthier thinking habits. These tasks may seem repetitive, and it is not always obvious what the program is doing. However, there is growing evidence that Cognitive Bias Modification can be an effective method for reducing negative feelings, like anxiety and sadness.
Several research studies have shown that Cognitive Bias Modification is effective at changing interpretations in people with clinical levels of anxiety. Further, many studies have found that Cognitive Bias Modification leads to decreases in anxiety symptoms and/or anxious reactions to potentially stressful situations, compared to control conditions (often referred to as placebo; a control condition may look like the active training but is not expected to work as well at encouraging healthier thinking habits).
Now, you may have some concerns about being placed in a "placebo condition." In our study, every participant will have a chance to experience the conditions that proves best.
There is also research evidence that repeated training sessions can be especially beneficial, because it provides more opportunities to practice healthier ways of thinking than a single training session. This is why we set up eight brief sessions of training.
Similarly, there is research showing how biases in imagery are closely connected to difficulties with anxiety, which is why participants complete imagery exercises as part of the program.
Although there are many examples of Cognitive Bias Modification programs helping to reduce anxiety, and even helping other problem areas like depression, substance use (e.g., alcohol abuse), eating disorders, and anger problems (among others), there are also some mixed findings. Not all studies using these approaches get the same results, and some studies find decreases in one anxiety measure but not another. Also, more research needs to be done comparing different numbers of training sessions to try to find the optimum number, and testing how to make the results for Cognitive Bias Modification done online as strong as results for the program done in the clinic or lab. Though there are still questions that need to be answered, one goal of this site is to work on answering these questions in order to refine and improve this promising treatment method.
Below are a few resources if you’re interested in learning more about Cognitive Bias Modification or the research supporting it.
Behavior change in 15-minute sessions?
– The Economist
A meta-analysis of the effect of cognitive bias modification on anxiety and depression
– Psychological Bulletin
Cognitive bias modification for anxiety: Current evidence and future directions
– Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics
Role of imagery in assessing and treating emotional disorders
- Clinical Psychology Review