Many disorders are characterized by specific biases in cognitive processes, and researchers have developed various computer tasks to modify these processes. One such task is Alcohol-Approach Bias Modification (AApBM), and it will be given an overview of its development from a lab-based assessment procedure to a recommended treatment for patients with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).
AApBM is based on lab research which revealed that heavy-drinking students show an automatic approach bias for alcohol-related stimuli in a joystick task: Compared to other stimuli and other students, they are faster to pull images of alcoholic beverages closer than to push them away. The postulated causal role of this bias for increased alcohol consumption was tested with a modified task version that induced – rather than assessed – the alcohol-approach bias in healthy students, which resulted in a short-lived increase in alcohol consumption. The clinical utility of the AApBM approach was then tested by having currently abstinent alcohol-dependent patients complete multiple sessions of a joystick training. The training involved several hundred trials of pushing images of alcoholic beverages away und pulling images of non-alcoholic beverages closer. The surprising, but repeatedly replicated result of several randomized controlled trials in Germany and Australia was that relapse rates one year later were about 10% lower in patients who had received this AApBM, compared to control patients. As a result, AABM was added to the treatment guidelines for Alcohol Use Disorder in Germany and Australia. Current research addresses limitations and working mechanisms of AApBM, as well as potential improvements and extensions.