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Computer-based training reduces a bias towards angry judgments

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 — Poster Session III

12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.

FAES Academic Center




  • EA Harkins
  • B Sharif-Askary
  • JS Stoddard
  • MA Brotman
  • E Leibenluft


Background: Youths with irritability-related psychopathology are biased towards judging ambiguous facial expressions as angry. To assess the feasibility of a non-pharmacologic treatment for pathologic irritability, we test whether this bias can be trained in healthy volunteers (HV). Methods: 15 HVs, 9-17 years old, made forced-choice ‘happy’ or ‘angry’ judgments of randomly presented morphs of 15 masked facial expressions varying on a continuum. In a randomized controlled trial, participants assigned to active (n=7) vs. sham (n=8) arms completed four daily training sessions. Sessions consisted of an assessment to determine “breakpoint”- the morph at which the subject’s judgment switches from happy to angry- and six training blocks with feedback based on the breakpoint. In the active condition, feedback was designed to shift the breakpoint towards happy. Breakpoint was assessed immediately and two weeks after training. Groups were compared using repeated-measures ANOVA. Results: Relative to their initial breakpoints, actively trained youths shifted their breakpoint towards happy relative to those in sham (F(1,13)=7.43, p=0.02) immediately following training (Cohen’s d=1.5, p=0.05) and two weeks later (Cohen’s d=1.2, p=0.10). Conclusion: Youths may be trained to shift their labeling of ambiguous faces on the happy-angry continuum, supporting an anger-bias training trial in pathologically irritable youth.

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