Effects of a virtual voice-based coach delivering problem-solving treatment on emotional distress and brain function: a pilot RCT in depression and anxiety

Thomas Kannampallil, Olusola A. Ajilore, Nan Lv, Joshua M. Smyth, Nancy E. Wittels, Corina R. Ronneberg, Vikas Kumar, Lan Xiao, Susanth Dosala, Amruta Barve, Aifeng Zhang, Kevin C. Tan, Kevin K. Cao, Charmi R. Patel, Ben S. Gerber, Jillian A. Johnson, Emily A. Kringle, Jun Ma

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7 Scopus citations

Abstract

Consumer-based voice assistants have the ability to deliver evidence-based treatment, but their therapeutic potential is largely unknown. In a pilot trial of a virtual voice-based coach, Lumen, delivering problem-solving treatment, adults with mild-to-moderate depression and/or anxiety were randomized to the Lumen intervention (n = 42) or waitlist control (n = 21). The main outcomes included changes in neural measures of emotional reactivity and cognitive control, and Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale [HADS] symptom scores over 16 weeks. Participants were 37.8 years (SD = 12.4), 68% women, 25% Black, 24% Latino, and 11% Asian. Activation of the right dlPFC (neural region of interest in cognitive control) decreased in the intervention group but increased in the control group, with an effect size meeting the prespecified threshold for a meaningful effect (Cohen’s d = 0.3). Between-group differences in the change in activation of the left dlPFC and bilateral amygdala were observed, but were of smaller magnitude (d = 0.2). Change in right dlPFC activation was also meaningfully associated (r ≥ 0.4) with changes in self-reported problem-solving ability and avoidance in the intervention. Lumen intervention also led to decreased HADS depression, anxiety, and overall psychological distress scores, with medium effect sizes (Cohen’s d = 0.49, 0.51, and 0.55, respectively), compared with the waitlist control group. This pilot trial showed promising effects of a novel digital mental health intervention on cognitive control using neuroimaging and depression and anxiety symptoms, providing foundational evidence for a future confirmatory study.

Original languageEnglish
Article number166
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Volume13
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2023

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