Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2015 Sep 18. [Epub ahead of print]
Cognitive biases have previously been recognized as key mechanisms that contribute to the development, maintenance, and relapse of addictive behaviors. The same mechanisms have been recently found in problematic computer gaming. The present study aims to investigate whether excessive massively multiplayer online role-playing gamers (EG) demonstrate an approach bias toward game-related cues compared to neutral stimuli; to test whether these automatic action tendencies can be implicitly modified in a single session training; and to test whether this training affects game urges and game-seeking behavior. EG (n = 38) were randomly assigned to a condition in which they were implicitly trained to avoid or to approach gaming cues by pushing or pulling a joystick, using a computerized intervention (cognitive bias modification via the Approach Avoidance Task). EG demonstrated an approach bias for gaming cues compared with neutral, movie cues. Single session training significantly decreased automatic action tendencies to approach gaming cues. These effects occurred outside subjective awareness. Furthermore, approach bias retraining reduced subjective urges and intentions to play, as well as decreased game-seeking behavior. Retraining automatic processes may be beneficial in changing addictive impulses in EG. Yet, large-scale trials and long-term follow-up are warranted. The results extend the application of cognitive bias modification from substance use disorders to behavioral addictions, and specifically to Internet gaming disorder. Theoretical implications are discussed.