Using Attentional Bias Modification as a Cognitive Vaccine Against Depression

Biological Psychiatry, 05/18/2012

Positive face–based attentional bias modification (ABM) was able to reduce intermediate measures of recurrence risk in previously depressed patients. These results suggest that ABM may provide a “cognitive vaccine” against depression and offer a useful strategy in the secondary prevention of the illness.


  • Sixty-one patients with at least two previous episodes of depression who were currently in remission were randomized to receive either an active (positive) or placebo computer-based ABM regime.
  • The ABM regime presented either pictures of faces or words.
  • Residual depressive symptoms, measured using the Beck Depression Inventory and the cortisol awakening response were measured immediately before and after completion of the bias modification and then again after 4 weeks' follow-up.


  • Positive, face-based ABM reduced both measures of recurrence risk (Beck Depression Inventory and cortisol awakening response).
  • This effect occurred during the month following completion of bias modification.
  • Word-based modification did not influence the outcome measures.

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