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Efficacy of attention bias modification using threat and appetitive stimuli: a meta-analytic review

Courtney Beard, Alice T Sawyer, Stefan G Hofmann
Behavior Therapy 2012, 43 (4): 724-40
23046776
Attention bias modification (ABM) protocols aim to modify attentional biases underlying many forms of pathology. Our objective was to conduct an effect size analysis of ABM across a wide range of samples and psychological problems. We conducted a literature search using PubMed, PsycInfo, and author searches to identify randomized studies that examined the effects of ABM on attention and subjective experiences. We identified 37 studies (41 experiments) totaling 2,135 participants who were randomized to training toward neutral, positive, threat, or appetitive stimuli or to a control condition. The effect size estimate for changes in attentional bias was large for the neutral versus threat comparisons (g=1.06), neutral versus appetitive (g=1.41), and neutral versus control comparisons (g=0.80), and small for positive versus control (g=0.24). The effects of ABM on attention bias were moderated by stimulus type (words vs. pictures) and sample characteristics (healthy vs. high symptomatology). Effect sizes of ABM on subjective experiences ranged from 0.03 to 0.60 for postchallenge outcomes, -0.31 to 0.51 for posttreatment, and were moderated by number of training sessions, stimulus type, and stimulus orientation (top/bottom vs. left/right). Fail-safe N calculations suggested that the effect size estimates were robust for the training effects on attentional biases, but not for the effect on subjective experiences. ABM studies using threat stimuli produced significant effects on attention bias across comparison conditions, whereas appetitive stimuli produced changes in attention only when comparing appetitive versus neutral conditions. ABM has a moderate and robust effect on attention bias when using threat stimuli. Further studies are needed to determine whether these effects are also robust when using appetitive stimuli and for affecting subjective experiences.

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