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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Cognitive-Bias Modification

Cognitive-Bias Modification has been in the news recently - but what is it?

CBM is a relatively new style of psychological treatment that works by the client simply sitting in front of their PC. CBM is a form of therapy that works on Attentional Biases. If you take as an example, people suffering anxiety disorder: they may have an attentional bias towards threat. This means they are drawn towards stimuli that they perceive to be dangerous. This attentional bias then affects memory and the recall of an event. As the anxiety sufferer has a bias towards 'threat' stimuli, these are the elements that are remembered when trying to recall a memory. Likewise, drug users have demonstrated an attentional bias towards drug related cues.

The aim of CBM is to change these biases.

The most common method used to re-train attention is the 'dot-probe task.' Two stimuli are briefly presented on a screen: One is emotionally relevant (i.e. designed to draw the attention due to the attentional bias) and the other is neutral. The stimuli is displayed for half a second then one is replaced by a task that the client must respond to. The attentional bias is indicated by the difference in reaction time to the task after it replaces an emotionally relevant stimuli compared to neutral stimuli.

Gradually the task replaces the neutral stimuli increasingly until it replaces the neutral stimuli 100% of the time. The client learns an implicit 'if-then' rule, namely: If both stimuli are present, then attend to the neutral stimuli. Often, repeating the procedure a number of times over an extended time period will change the client's tendency to focus on the emotionally relevant stimuli. That change is then carried over into the world.

The effectiveness for this method is still to be decided, with conflicting evidence at the moment, although it still tends towards being effective.

One of the major advantages of this style of therapy style, assuming it works, is that the client need only sit in front of their pc and run the program. They will no longer need to attend therapy sessions anymore. But only if CBM really is the panacea it hopes to be.

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