BACKGROUND: This pilot study conducted a preliminary examination of whether Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM), a computerized task to retrain cognitive-approach biases towards smoking stimuli (a) changed approach bias for cigarettes, and (b) improved smoking cessation outcomes in adolescent smokers.
METHODS: Sixty adolescent smokers received four weeks of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for smoking cessation, with CBM (90% avoidance/10% approach for smoking stimuli and 10% avoidance/90% approach for neutral stimuli) or sham (50% avoidance/50% approach for smoking and neutral stimuli) training in the Netherlands (n = 42) and the United States (n = 18).
RESULTS: While we did not observe changes in action tendencies related to CBM, adolescents with higher smoking approach biases at baseline had greater decreases in approach biases at follow-up, compared to adolescents with smoking avoidance biases, regardless of treatment condition (p = 0.01). Intent-to-treat (ITT) analyses showed that CBM, when compared with sham trended toward higher end-of-treatment, biochemically-confirmed, seven-day point prevalence abstinence, (17.2% vs. 3.2%, p = 0.071). ITT analysis also showed that regardless of treatment condition, cotinine level (p = 0.045) and average number of cigarette smoked (p ≤ 0.001) significantly decreased over the course of treatment.
CONCLUSIONS: The findings from this pilot study suggests that re-training approach biases toward cigarettes shows promise for smoking cessation among adolescent smokers. Future research should utilize larger samples and increased distinction between CBM and sham conditions, and examine mechanisms underlying the CBM approach.