Mental imagery can help people have meaningful experiences and improve their mental and physical health. This study aimed to explore the intervention effect of positive mental imagery training (imagery cognitive bias modification) on the negative emotions of Chinese college students with at least mild symptoms of depression.
A 2 (group: training group, non-training group) by 4 (time: pre-, post-, 1-week follow-up, and 6-week follow-up) mixed design was used in this study, with the group as the between-participants factor and the time as the within-participants factor. Forty-nine participants were pseudo-randomly assigned to either the imagery training group (received 7 days of training) or the non-training group (continued their daily lives as usual). Both groups were followed up at 1 week and 6 weeks after the intervention via online questionnaires. Repeated-measures analyses of variance were conducted using baseline, post-training (all participants, N = 49), and follow-up (N = 42) data.
Compared to participants in the no training group, participants in the positive mental imagery training group showed improvements in depression symptoms and trait anxiety; as well as the likelihood rating of positive imagery across the subsequent three assessments. The vividness of positive imagery post-training also improved. However, there was no significant between-group difference in negative interpretation bias.
Positive mental imagery training effectively improved negative emotions and anxiety in adults with depression symptoms after 1 week of training, with these effects lasting for at least 6 weeks, indicating that this type of training should be further explored in China.