The effectiveness of attentional bias modification for substance use disorder symptoms in adults: a systematic review

Heitmann, J., Bennik, E. C., van Hemel-Ruiter, M. E. & de Jong, P. J., 13-Oct-2018, In : Systematic Reviews. 7, 21 p., 160.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

Background: Attentional bias modification (ABM) interventions have been developed to address addiction by reducing attentional bias for substance-related cues. This study provides a systematic review of the effectiveness of ABM interventions in decreasing symptoms of addictive behaviour, taking baseline levels of attentional bias and changes in attentional bias into account.

Methods: We included randomised and non-randomised studies that investigated the effectiveness of ABM interventions in heavy-using adults and treatment-seeking individuals with symptoms of substance use disorder to manipulate attentional bias and to reduce substance use-related symptoms. We searched for relevant English peer-reviewed articles without any restriction for the year of publication using PsycINFO, PubMed, and ISI Web in August 2016. Study quality was assessed regarding reporting, external validity, internal validity, and power of the study.

Results: Eighteen studies were included: nine studies reported on ABM intervention effects in alcohol use, six studies on nicotine use, and three studies on opiate use. The included studies differed with regard to type of ABM intervention (modified dot probe task n = 14; Alcohol Attention Control Training Programme n = 4), outcome measures, amount and length of provided sessions, and context (clinic versus laboratory versus home environment). The study quality mostly ranged from low average to high average (one study scored below the quality cut-off). Ten studies reported significant changes of symptoms of addictive behaviour, whereas eight studies found no effect of ABM interventions on symptoms. However, when restricted to multi-session ABM intervention studies, eight out of ten studies found effects on symptoms of addiction. Surprisingly, these effects on symptoms of addictive behaviour showed no straightforward relationship with baseline attentional bias and its change from baseline to post-test.

Conclusions: Despite a number of negative findings and the diversity of studies, multi-session ABM interventions, especially in the case of alcohol and when the Alcohol Attention Control Training Programme was used, appear to have positive effects on symptoms of addictive behaviour. However, more rigorous well-powered future research in clinical samples is needed before firm conclusions regarding the effectiveness of ABM interventions can be drawn.

Original languageEnglish
Article number160
Number of pages21
JournalSystematic Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 13-Oct-2018


  • Attentional bias, Attentional bias modification, Cognitive bias modification, Addiction, Substance use disorder, Alcohol, Nicotine, Opiate, Systematic review, EXPERIMENTAL MANIPULATION, ADDICTIVE BEHAVIORS, HEAVY DRINKERS, SMOKERS, ANXIETY, INTERVENTIONS, ADOLESCENTS

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