Open Access Commentary

Absence of evidence or evidence of absence: reflecting on therapeutic implementations of attentional bias modification

Patrick JF Clarke1*, Lies Notebaert1 and Colin MacLeod12

Author Affiliations

1 School of Psychology, University of Western Australia, Crawley 6009, Western Australia, Australia

2 School of Psychology, Babes-Bolyai University, Strada Mihail Kogãlniceanu 1, Mihail Kogalniceanu St, Cluj-Napoca 3400, Romania

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BMC Psychiatry 2014, 14:8  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-14-8

Published: 15 January 2014


Attentional bias modification (ABM) represents one of a number of cognitive bias modification techniques which are beginning to show promise as therapeutic interventions for emotional pathology. Numerous studies with both clinical and non-clinical populations have now demonstrated that ABM can reduce emotional vulnerability. However, some recent studies have failed to achieve change in either selective attention or emotional vulnerability using ABM methodologies, including a recent randomised controlled trial by Carlbring et al. Some have sought to represent such absence of evidence as a sound basis not to further pursue ABM as an online intervention. While these findings obviously raise questions about the specific conditions under which ABM procedures will produce therapeutic benefits, we suggest that the failure of some studies to modify selective attention does not challenge the theoretical and empirical basis of ABM. The present paper seeks to put these ABM failures in perspective within the broader context of attentional bias modification research. In doing so it is apparent that the current findings and future prospects of ABM are in fact very promising, suggesting that more research in this area is warranted, not less.

Attentional bias modification; ABM; Cognitive bias modification; CBM; Experimental psychopathology