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New Brain-Training Tool To Help People Cut Drinking

Last updated June 20, 2016

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Rob & Dani

"It used to be the case that changing the way you think about something required hours spent sitting on a psychologist's couch, delving deep into your personal life and digging up painful childhood memories."

Online exercise featured in the first episode of BBC One's 'Lose Weight for Love' is now available to the public for free.

An LSE expert on happiness and behaviour has launched a free online tool to help people who want to cut down on alcohol.

Professor Paul Dolan, author of the bestselling book Happiness by Design, used insights from behavioural science to create the innovative and easy-to-use tool. It uses a simple brain-training exercise, known as a 'cognitive bias modification' (CBM), to reduce any unconscious preference people may have for alcoholic drinks over non-alcoholic ones.

As Professor Dolan has highlighted through his work, people often put a lot of faith in willpower to change their bad habits. The problem is willpower is unreliable, and is a poor way of controlling impulsive behaviors like alcohol-use in the long term.

This brain-training exercise, however, has a proven impact in changing behaviour. A recent study shows alcoholics who undertook just four 15-minute training sessions over four days saw a reduced preference for alcohol. The treatment group also had a 13% lower relapse rate a year later, compared to groups who didn't undergo the training. Other work also shows its effectiveness for people who are heavy drinkers but 'non-clinical'.

Firstly, the site tests users to see if they have a bias in favour of alcoholic drinks, based on how quickly they 'push away' images of alcohol compared to other images. If such a bias exists, users are encouraged to spend 15 minutes associating images of alcoholic drinks with the action of 'pushing away' on a smartphone, tablet or keyboard, and associating non-alcoholic alternatives with the action of 'pulling towards'. The task works by training the user's brain to be less drawn to alcoholic drinks in future.

After just four 15 minute sessions the tool will re-test the user, who should see a reduction in their preference for alcohol. In turn, users should be less likely to engage in impulsive drinking in their day-to-day lives.

This process was demonstrated in the BBC One documentary, Lose Weight for Love, on Wednesday 18 May 2016. In the programme Professor Dolan uses the CBM exercise to help the participant, Phil, reduce his unconscious preference for fizzy drinks.

Professor Dolan explains the potential benefits of CBM: "It used to be the case that changing the way you think about something required hours spent sitting on a psychologist's couch, delving deep into your personal life and digging up painful childhood memories.

Thankfully, this is no longer the only option available. It has now been shown that the way we think can be altered with a handful of 15-minute training sessions, and not a psychologist in sight.

And it is not just for treating automatic preferences for alcohol or fizzy drinks. Versions of this task are being used to treat symptoms of anxiety, depression and other disorders. The indication is that CBM allows people to have better control over their behaviour making it more likely that they will be happier overall."

See more information at: https://attentiontraining.co.uk/index.html?utm_medium=Newspage&utm_source=LSE

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by London School of Economics (LSE)Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Disclaimer: DoveMed is not responsible for the adapted accuracy of news releases posted to DoveMed by contributing universities and institutions.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: June 20, 2016
Last updated: June 20, 2016