Public Release: 

Attention bias modification treatment in depressed adolescents


Washington D.C., February 24, 2016 - A study to be published in the March 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) reports that adolescents with major depression who performed a computer-based task designed to shift attention from sad to neutral to positive word associations showed reductions in negative attention biases and clinician-rated depressive symptoms.

11% of American adolescents suffer from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Facing a broad range of psychosocial and health problems, these youths are five times more at risk to attempt suicide than peers without psychiatric illness. A novel computer-based task, attention bias modification (ABM), designed to shift attention away from negative stimuli, was found to reduce depressive symptoms in adults.

A group of researchers led by Dr. Wenhui Yang of Hunan Normal University, examined the short- and long-term effects of ABM tasks in 45 adolescents with MDD, selected from a school population (n=2731). The authors hypothesized that adolescents who engaged in active ABM training would report greater reductions in depressive symptoms compared with adolescents in the control group, who did a placebo training.

Adolescents in the active ABM group completed eight sessions (22 minutes each) over a period of two weeks to shift their attention from sad to neutral words. Nine weeks later, they completed four more sessions (30 minutes each) to shift their attention from neutral to positive words, again spread over two weeks. The placebo training had the same tasks, but shifted attention towards neutral and sad words equally often.

The researchers found greater reductions in attention bias score and clinician-rated depressive symptoms for the active ABM group compared with the placebo after the initial two-week training. Moreover, a higher number of participants in active ABM group no longer met diagnostic criteria for MDD compared to participants in the placebo group. After 12 months, the participants in the active ABM group reported even greater reductions in self-reported depressive and anxious feelings.

Based on these findings, the authors concluded that ABM may be a potential treatment tool for mild to moderate adolescent major depression. As most adult depression begins during adolescence, training for adolescents with depression may have far-reaching effects across their entire life.


The article "Attention Bias Modification Treatment for Adolescents With Major Depression: A Randomized Controlled Trial" by Wenhui Yang, PhD, John X. Zhang, PhD, Zhirui Ding, MS, Lihui Xiao, MS, ( appears in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 55, Issue 3 (March 2016), published by Elsevier.

Notes for editors

Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Mary Billingsley at +1 202 587 9672 or Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Dr. Wenhui Yang at or +86 138 7487 9837.

All articles published in JAACAP are embargoed until the day they are published as in-press corrected proofs online at Articles cannot be publicized as in-press accepted manuscripts. Contents of the publication should not be released to or by the media or government agencies prior to the embargo date.


Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) is the official publication of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. JAACAP is the leading journal focusing exclusively on today's psychiatric research and treatment of the child and adolescent. Published twelve times per year, each issue is committed to its mission of advancing the science of pediatric mental health and promoting the care of youth and their families.

The journal's purpose is to advance research, clinical practice, and theory in child and adolescent psychiatry. It is interested in manuscripts from diverse viewpoints, including genetic, epidemiological, neurobiological, cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, social, cultural, and economic. Studies of diagnostic reliability and validity, psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacological treatment efficacy, and mental health services effectiveness are encouraged. The journal also seeks to promote the well-being of children and families by publishing scholarly papers on such subjects as health policy, legislation, advocacy, culture and society, and service provision as they pertain to the mental health of children and families.

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions -- among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Elsevier Research Intelligence and ClinicalKey-- and publishes over 2,500 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and more than 33,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works. Elsevier is part of RELX Group plc, a world-leading provider of information solutions for professional customers across industries.

Media contact

Mary Billingsley
JAACAP Editorial Office
+1 202 587 9672

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