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Emotional recognition training modifies neural response to emotional faces but does not improve mood in healthy volunteers with high levels of depressive symptoms

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 February 2020

Ian S. Penton-Voak*
Affiliation:
School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK National Institute for Health Research Bristol Biomedical Research Centre, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
Sally Adams
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, University of Bath, Bath, UK
Katherine S. Button
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, University of Bath, Bath, UK
Meg Fluharty
Affiliation:
School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
Michael Dalili
Affiliation:
School of Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
Michael Browning
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre, Oxford, UK
Emily A. Holmes
Affiliation:
Division of Psychology, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Solna, Sweden
Catherine J. Harmer
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre, Oxford, UK
Marcus R. Munafò
Affiliation:
School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK National Institute for Health Research Bristol Biomedical Research Centre, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and University of Bristol, Bristol, UK MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
*
Author for correspondence: Ian S. Penton-Voak, E-mail: i.s.penton-voak@bristol.ac.uk

Abstract

Background

There is demand for new, effective and scalable treatments for depression, and development of new forms of cognitive bias modification (CBM) of negative emotional processing biases has been suggested as possible interventions to meet this need.

Methods

We report two double blind RCTs, in which volunteers with high levels of depressive symptoms (Beck Depression Inventory ii (BDI-ii) > 14) completed a brief course of emotion recognition training (a novel form of CBM using faces) or sham training. In Study 1 (N = 36), participants completed a post-training emotion recognition task whilst undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate neural correlates of CBM. In Study 2 (N = 190), measures of mood were assessed post-training, and at 2-week and 6-week follow-up.

Results

In both studies, CBM resulted in an initial change in emotion recognition bias, which (in Study 2) persisted for 6 weeks after the end of training. In Study 1, CBM resulted in increases neural activation to happy faces, with this effect driven by an increase in neural activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and bilateral amygdala. In Study 2, CBM did not lead to a reduction in depressive symptoms on the BDI-ii, or on related measures of mood, motivation and persistence, or depressive interpretation bias at either 2 or 6-week follow-ups.

Conclusions

CBM of emotion recognition has effects on neural activity that are similar in some respects to those induced by Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) administration (Study 1), but we find no evidence that this had any later effect on self-reported mood in an analogue sample of non-clinical volunteers with low mood (Study 2).

Type
Original Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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Emotional recognition training modifies neural response to emotional faces but does not improve mood in healthy volunteers with high levels of depressive symptoms
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