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OxIGen – Oxford Imagery Generation: Investigating the effects of an internet-based computer program in depression.

We have been carrying out a programme of research examining how changes in thinking style relate to symptoms of depression and anxiety. We investigated this using an online computer program. We hope that this research will lead to the development of new treatments for depression and anxiety in the future. The study was supported by a grant from the Lupina Foundation.


Thank you to everyone who expressed an interest or took part in the study. The results have now been published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, and you can download the full article here.

The article reference is:

Blackwell, S. E., Browning, M., Mathews, A., Pictet, A., Welch, J., Davies, J., Watson, P., Geddes, J. R., & Holmes, E. A. (2015). Positive imagery-based cognitive bias modification as a web-based treatment tool for depressed adults: a randomized controlled trial. Clinical Psychological Science, 3, 91-111. doi: 10.1177/2167702614560746

The study and results are summarised below. We would like to thank anonymous participant representatives for their feedback in writing this summary, such as the suggestion to provide links to the relevant sections of the paper.

Study summary

This research study was designed to investigate whether promoting positive mental imagery via an online computer program would be beneficial in depression. This computer program was called OxIGen (“Oxford Imagery Generation”). Participants completed twelve online sessions, about 20 minutes per session, over the course of four weeks. Participants completed questionnaires about their mood before and after the four-week programme, and then one, three, and six months later. In order to isolate the contribution of the positive imagery aspect of the OxIGen program, we compared it to a “control” version of the program that did not involve generating positive mental imagery.

Main findings

  • 150 adults with current depression took part. They completed either the OxIGen positive imagery program, or a control version (which version they completed was random, determined by a computer program).
  • There were good completion rates for both online interventions and follow-up questionnaires (go to relevant section of paper)
  • Participant feedback was generally positive and encouraging for the online OxIGen intervention as a future treatment (go to relevant section of paper)
  • On average, participants experienced decreases in symptoms of depression over the course of the study. However, unexpectedly there was no difference in this decrease between participants completing the two different versions of the program (OxIGen positive imagery or control) (go to relevant section of paper)
  • Further analyses suggested that:
    • The OxIGen positive imagery intervention had a specific effect beyond that of the control version in improving interest in, and enjoyment from, activities (lack of which is called ‘anhedonia’) (go to relevant section of paper)
    • The OxIGen positive imagery intervention was most effective relative to the control version for those participants with less recurrent depression (fewer than 5 episodes) and those who were able to generate vivid mental images during the intervention (go to relevant section of paper)
    • While these exploratory analyses need to be interpreted cautiously, they help to explain the unexpected result from our main analysis, and also suggest useful directions in which this line of research could be taken further forwards.

Future directions

The results from this study will be informative in further developing mental imagery-based interventions that might be useful for people with depression. We are continuing this line work in Cambridge, at the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. You can read further and see a full list of our publications in this area here.


We are grateful to the Lupina Foundation for their support of this research. The Lupina Foundation is a Toronto-based charitable foundation that supports projects that contribute to a vision of providing complete, integral, quality healthcare to all people regardless of socio-economic class.

We hope that this research program will lead to the development of easily accessible and cost-effective potential treatments for specific aspects of depression and anxiety, targeted at those under-served by current treatment provisions. 

Study details:

Principal Investigator: Prof Emily A. Holmes
Sponsor: University of Oxford
Ethical approval: NRES Committee South Central – Oxford C, Ref number: 11/SC/0278 Identifier: NCT01443234