Background: Automatically activated cognitive motivational processes such as the tendency to attend to or approach smoking-related stimuli (ie, attentional and approach bias) have been related to smoking behaviors. Therefore, these cognitive biases are thought to play a role in maintaining smoking behaviors. Cognitive biases can be modified with cognitive bias modification (CBM), which holds promise as an easy-access and low-cost online intervention. However, little is known about the effectiveness of online interventions combining two varieties of CBM. Targeting multiple cognitive biases may improve treatment outcomes because these biases have been shown to be relatively independent. Objective: This study aimed to test the individual and combined effects of two web-based CBM varieties-attentional bias modification (AtBM) and approach bias modification (ApBM)-in a double-blind randomized controlled trial (RCT) with a 2 (AtBM: Active versus sham) × 2 (ApBM: Active versus sham) factorial design. Methods: A total of 504 adult smokers seeking online help to quit smoking were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 experimental conditions to receive 11 fully automated CBM training sessions. To increase participants' intrinsic motivation to change their smoking behaviors, all participants first received brief, automated, tailored feedback. The primary outcome was point prevalence abstinence during the study period. Secondary outcomes included daily cigarette use and attentional and approach bias. All outcomes were repeatedly self-assessed online from baseline to the 3-month follow-up. For the examination of training effects on outcome changes, an intention-to-treat analysis with a multilevel modeling (MLM) approach was adopted. Results: Only 10.7% (54/504) of the participants completed all 11 training sessions, and 8.3% (42/504) of the participants reached the 3-month follow-up assessment. MLM showed that over time, neither AtBM or ApBM nor a combination of both differed from their respective sham training in point prevalence abstinence rates (P=.17, P=.56, and P=.14, respectively), and in changes in daily cigarette use (P=.26, P=.08, and P=.13, respectively), attentional bias (P=.07, P=.81, and P=.15, respectively), and approach bias (P=.57, P=.22, and P=.40, respectively), while daily cigarette use decreased over time across conditions for all participants (P<.001). Conclusions: This RCT provides no support for the effectiveness of combining AtBM and ApBM in a self-help web-based smoking cessation intervention. However, this study had a very high dropout rate and a very low frequency of training usage, indicating an overall low acceptability of the intervention, which precludes any definite conclusion on its efficacy. We discuss how this study can inform future designs and settings of online CBM interventions.

Approach bias modification, Attentional bias modification, Cognitive bias modification, EHealth, Randomized controlled trial, Smoking addiction, Smoking cessation, Web-based intervention,
Journal of Medical Internet Research
Department of Psychology

Wen, S. (Si), Larsen, H. (Helle), Boffo, M. (Marilisa), Grasman, R.P.P.P. (Raoul P.P.P.), Pronk, T. (Thomas), Van Wijngaarden, J.B.G. (Joeri B.G.), & Wiers, R.W. (2020). Combining web-based attentional bias modification and approach bias modification as a self-help smoking intervention for adult smokers seeking online help: Double-blind randomized controlled trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(5). doi:10.2196/16342