An Open Pilot Study of Training Hostile Interpretation Bias to Treat Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

Joel Stoddard, Banafsheh Sharif-Askary, Elizabeth A Harkins, Heather R Frank, Melissa A Brotman, Ian S Penton-Voak, Keren Maoz, Yair Bar-Haim, Marcus Munafò, Daniel S Pine, Ellen Leibenluft

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Objective: Irritability in disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) may be associated with a biased tendency to judge ambiguous facial expressions as angry. We conducted three experiments to explore this bias as a treatment target. We tested: 1) whether youth with DMDD express this bias; 2) whether judgment of ambiguous faces can be altered in healthy youth by training; and 3) whether such training in youth with DMDD is associated with reduced irritability and associated changes in brain function.

Methods: Participants in all experiments made happy versus angry judgments of faces that varied along a happy to angry continuum. These judgments were used to quantify a "balance point," the facial expression at which a participant's judgment switches from predominantly happy to predominantly angry. We first compared balance points in youth with DMDD (n = 63) versus healthy youth (n = 26). We then conducted a double-blind, randomized controlled trial of active versus sham balance-point training in 19 healthy youth. Finally, we piloted open, active balance-point training in 14 youth with DMDD, with 10 completing an implicit functional MRI (fMRI) face-emotion processing task.

Results: Relative to healthy youth, DMDD youth manifested a shifted balance point, expressed as a tendency to classify ambiguous faces as angry rather than happy. In both healthy and DMDD youth, active training is associated with a shift in balance point toward more happy judgments. In DMDD, evidence suggests that active training may be associated with decreased irritability and changes in activation in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex.

Conclusions: These results set the stage for further research on computer-based treatment targeting interpretation bias of angry faces in DMDD. Such treatment may decrease irritability and alter neural responses to subtle expressions of happiness and anger.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-57
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2016

Structured keywords

  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Cognitive Science
  • Social Cognition
  • Tobacco and Alcohol


  • disruptive mood dysregulation disorder
  • irritable mood
  • interpretation bias


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