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Attentional bias modification (ABM) training induces spontaneous brain activity changes in young women with subthreshold depression: a randomized controlled trial

  • H. Li (a1) (a2) (a3), D. Wei (a2) (a3), M. Browning (a4), X. Du (a2) (a3), Q. Zhang (a2) (a3) and J. Qiu (a2) (a3)...



Attention bias modification (ABM) training has been suggested to effectively reduce depressive symptoms, and may be useful in the prevention of the illness in individuals with subthreshold symptoms, yet little is known about the spontaneous brain activity changes associated with ABM training.


Resting-state functional MRI was used to explore the effects of ABM training on subthreshold depression (SubD) and corresponding spontaneous brain activity changes. Participants were 41 young women with SubD and 26 matched non-depressed controls. Participants with SubD were randomized to receive either ABM or placebo training during 28 sessions across 4 weeks. Non-depressed controls were assessed before training only. Attentional bias, depressive severity, and spontaneous brain activity before and after training were assessed in both training groups.


Findings revealed that compared to active control training, ABM training significantly decreased depression symptoms, and increased attention for positive stimuli. Resting-state data found that ABM training significantly reduced amplitude of low-frequency fluctuations (ALFF) of the right anterior insula (AI) and right middle frontal gyrus which showed greater ALFF than non-depressed controls before training; Functional connectivity strength between right AI and the right frontoinsular and right supramarginal gyrus were significantly decreased after training within the ABM group; moreover, the improvement of depression symptoms following ABM significantly correlated with the connectivity strength reductions between right AI and right frontoinsular and right supramarginal gyrus.


These results suggest that ABM has the potential to reshape the abnormal patterns of spontaneous brain activity in relevant neural circuits associated with depression.


Corresponding author

* Address for correspondence: Professor J. Qiu, Faculty of Psychology, Southwest University, No. 2, TianSheng Road, Beibei District, Chongqing 400715, China. (Email:


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