Gamified Web-Delivered Attentional Bias Modification Training for Adults With Chronic Pain: Protocol for a Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial

J.F. Vermeir*, M.J. White, D. Johnson, G. Crombez, D.M.L. Van Ryckeghem

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: To date, research has found variable success in using attentional bias modification training (ABMT) procedures in pain samples. Several factors could contribute to these mixed findings, including boredom and low motivation. Indeed, training paradigms are repetitive, which can lead to disengagement and high dropout rates. A potential approach to overcoming some of these barriers is to attempt to increase motivation and engagement through gamification (ie, the use of game elements) of this procedure. To date, research has yet to explore the gamified format of ABMT for chronic pain and its potential for the transfer of benefits.Objective: The aim of this study is to investigate the effects of a gamified web-delivered ABMT intervention in a sample of adults with chronic pain via a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.Methods: A total of 120 adults with chronic musculoskeletal pain, recruited from clinical (hospital outpatient waiting list) and nonclinical (wider community) settings, will be included in this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, 3-arm trial. Participants will be randomly assigned to complete 6 web-based sessions of dot-probe nongamified sham control ABMT, nongamified standard ABMT, or gamified ABMT across a period of 3 weeks. Active ABMT conditions will aim to train attention away from pain-relevant words. Participant outcomes will be assessed at pretraining, during training, immediately after training, and at the 1-month follow-up. Primary outcomes include pain intensity, pain interference, and behavioral and self-reported engagement. Secondary outcomes include attentional bias for pain, anxiety, depression, interpretation bias for pain, and perceived improvement.Results: The ethical aspects of this research project have been approved by the human research ethics committees of the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital (HREC/2020/QRBW/61743) and Queensland University of Technology (2000000395). Study recruitment commenced in August 2021 and is ongoing. Data collection and analysis are expected to be concluded by October 2022 and January 2023, respectively.Conclusions: This trial will be the first to evaluate the effects of gamification techniques in a pain ABMT intervention. The findings will provide important information on the potential therapeutic benefits of gamified pain ABMT programs, shed light on the motivational influences of certain game elements in the context of pain, and advance our understanding of chronic pain.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere32359
Number of pages18
JournalJMIR Research Protocols
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • chronic pain
  • cognition
  • attentional bias
  • gamification
  • motivation
  • randomized controlled trial
  • web-based intervention
  • pain management
  • digital intervention
  • digital health
  • GAME

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