A randomized, controlled pilot trial of the Emotional Faces Memory Task: a digital therapeutic for depression

Academic Article


  • There is an urgent need for more effective treatments for major depressive disorder (MDD). Digital therapeutics, such as computerized cognitive–emotional training interventions, represent a promising new strategy for treating MDD. Here we report a replication of efficacy of a digital cognitive–emotional training intervention designed to enhance cognitive control for emotional information-processing. In a randomized, double-blind, controlled study design, 51 participants with MDD in a current major depressive episode were randomly assigned to participate in a digital cognitive–emotional training regimen (Emotional Faces Memory Task (EFMT); n = 28) involving 18 sessions over 6 weeks, or an active control condition (CT; n = 23) involving computerized working memory training. MDD symptoms were assessed weekly using a clinician-rated measure (Hamilton Depression Rating Scale; Ham-D); and neurocognition (working memory), at baseline and study outcome. Mixed-effects model for repeated measures (MMRM) analysis of all participants randomized revealed a significantly greater reduction in MDD symptom severity (Ham-D) from baseline to outcome in the EFMT group (8.65 points) compared to the CT group (4.77 points) (F(6,205) = 3.23, p =.005, d = 0.46). Ten of 28 EFMT participants achieved clinical response (≥50% reduction in symptoms) compared to 4 of 23 in CT. Both groups exhibited similar, small improvements in working memory. This replicated the preliminary efficacy of a digital cognitive–emotional training approach for the treatment of MDD. EFMT may be a feasible and effective intervention strategy for MDD, but future studies to elucidate its mechanism of action are warranted. This study is registered with Clinicaltrials.gov (NCT: 01934491).
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Iacoviello BM; Murrough JW; Hoch MM; Huryk KM; Collins KA; Cutter GR; Iosifescu DV; Charney DS
  • Volume

  • 1
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