Attentional Bias Modification With Serious Game Elements: Evaluating the Shots Game

W. J. Boendermaker, S. Sanchez Maceiras, M. Boffo, R. W. Wiers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Young adults often experiment with heavy use of alcohol, which poses severe health risks and increases the chance of developing addiction problems. In clinical patients, cognitive retraining of automatic appetitive processes, such as selective attention toward alcohol (known as "cognitive bias modification of attention," or CBM-A), has been shown to be a promising add-on to treatment, helping to prevent relapse.

OBJECTIVE: To prevent escalation of regular use into problematic use in youth, motivation appears to play a pivotal role. As CBM-A is often viewed as long and boring, this paper presents this training with the addition of serious game elements as a novel approach aimed at enhancing motivation to train.

METHODS: A total of 96 heavy drinking undergraduate students carried out a regular CBM-A training, a gamified version (called "Shots"), or a placebo training version over 4 training sessions. Measures of motivation to change their behavior, motivation to train, drinking behavior, and attentional bias for alcohol were included before and after training.

RESULTS: Alcohol attentional bias was reduced after training only in the regular training condition. Self-reported drinking behavior was not affected, but motivation to train decreased in all conditions, suggesting that the motivational features of the Shots game were not enough to fully counteract the tiresome nature of the training. Moreover, some of the motivational aspects decreased slightly more in the game condition, which may indicate potential detrimental effects of disappointing gamification.

CONCLUSIONS: Gamification is not without its risks. When the motivational value of a training task with serious game elements is less than expected by the adolescent, effects detrimental to their motivation may occur. We therefore advise caution when using gamification, as well as underscore the importance of careful scientific evaluation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere20
Number of pages10
JournalJMIR Serious Games
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • cognitive training
  • cognitive bias modification (CBM)
  • attentional bias
  • adolescents
  • serious games
  • motivation


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