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Adolescence is a vulnerable time for the onset of depression. Recent evidence from adult studies suggests not only that negative attention biases are correlated with symptoms of depression, but that reducing negative attention biases through training can in turn reduce symptomology. The role and plasticity of attention biases in adolescent depression, however, remains unclear. This study examines the association between symptoms of depression and attention biases, and whether such biases are modifiable, in a community sample of adolescents. We report data from 105 adolescents aged 13-17 who completed a dot-probe measure of attention bias before and after a single session of visual search-based cognitive bias modification training. This is the first study to find a significant association between negative attention biases and increased symptoms of depression in a community sample of adolescents. Contrary to expectations, we were unable to manipulate attention biases using a previously successful cognitive bias modification task. There were no significant effects of the training on positive affect and only modest effects of the training, identified in post-hoc analyses, were observed on negative affect. Our data replicate those from the adult literature, which suggest that adolescent depression is a disorder associated with negative attention biases, although we were unable to modify attention biases in our study. We identify numerous parameters of our methodology which may explain these null training effects, and which could be addressed in future cognitive bias modification studies of adolescent depression.

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Adolescent depression, Cognitive bias modification, Dot-probe task, Visual search task