Zeitschrift für Depression und Angst

Zeitschrift für Depression und Angst
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ISSN: 2167-1044


Decreasing Dysphoric Thoughts by a Working Memory Training: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial

Sabine Wanmaker, Jesper F Hopstaken, Joost Asselbergs, Elke Geraerts, Ingmar HA Franken

Objective: Depressive symptoms are related to deficient executive functioning, in particular working memory (WM). That is, depressed individuals are less able to remove negative information from their WM, have difficulties to shift between negative and positive information and inhibit irrelevant information. Previous findings show that working memory capacity (WMC) can be increased by training and this diminishes symptoms of psychopathology, like ADHD, and cognitive consequences of a stroke. The inclusion of game elements in a WM training showed to positively influence motivation, compliance and WM performance during and after training. The current study aimed to explore the effectiveness of a gamified WM training for dysphoria.

Method: The current study explored by means of a double-blind randomized controlled trial whether a gamified WM training could reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and rumination in a sample of 61 dysphoric students. Participants executed the game, consisting of five WM tasks, three times a week for three weeks at home. The experimental group the tests adapted to their WMC level, to train their WMC, while the placebo group received easy versions of the tasks to prevent training WMC. Before and after the training participants’ WMC was assessed with the Spanboard Task and their psychopathology with questionnaires about depression, anxiety, and rumination. Moreover, WMC and psychopathology were compared to a healthy control group before training.

Results: As expected, the dysphoric students reported more psychopathology than the healthy students. The groups did not differ in WMC. WM training resulted in a larger WMC compared to the placebo training and compared to healthy students, but not in a larger decrease of psychopathological symptoms. However, both WM and placebo training resulted in a less reported psychopathology. The number of training sessions did not moderate the effect of training on either measure.

Conclusion: A gamified WM training seems to increase WMC but this did not transfer to a decrease of psychopathology. A potential explanation for this lack of effect might be that participants’ psychopathology was not severe enough to tackle it with a WM training. Another suggestion might be that WM training is not as effective for depression, anxiety and rumination, which is in line with other recent studies.