Sadness-Based Approach-Avoidance Modification Training for Subjective Stress in Adults: Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial

Rupp L, Keinert M, Böhme S, Gmelch LM, Eskofier B, Schuller BW, Berking M (2023)

Publication Type: Journal article

Publication year: 2023


Book Volume: 7

Pages Range: e50324

DOI: 10.2196/50324



A key vulnerability factor in mental health problems is chronic stress. There is a need for easy-to-disseminate and effective interventions to advance the prevention of stress-related illnesses. App-based stress management trainings can fulfill this need. As subjectively experienced stress may be influenced by dysfunctional beliefs, modifying their evaluations might reduce subjective stress. Approach-avoidance modification trainings (AAMT) can be used to modify stimulus evaluations and are promising candidates for a mobile stress intervention. As the standard training reactions of the AAMT (swiping and joystick motion) have little valence, emotions could be incorporated as approach and avoidance reactions to enhance the effectiveness of AAMTs.


We aimed to evaluate the feasibility of a mobile emotion-enhanced AAMT that engages users to display sadness to move stress-enhancing beliefs away and display positive emotions to move stress-reducing beliefs toward themselves (emotion-based AAMT using sadness and positive emotions [eAAMT-SP]). We explored the clinical efficacy of this novel intervention.


We allocated 30 adult individuals with elevated stress randomly to 1 of 3 conditions (eAAMT-SP, a swipe control condition, and an inactive control condition). We evaluated the feasibility of the intervention (technical problems, adherence, usability, and acceptability). To explore the clinical efficacy of the intervention, we compared pretest-posttest differences in perceived stress (primary clinical outcome) and 3 secondary clinical outcomes (agreement with and perceived helpfulness of dysfunctional beliefs, emotion regulation, and depressive symptoms) among the conditions.


The predetermined benchmarks of 50% for intervention completion and 75% for feasibility of the study design (completion of the study design) were met, whereas the cutoff for technical feasibility of the study design (95% of trials without technical errors) was not met. Effect sizes for usability and acceptability were in favor of the eAAMT-SP condition (compared with the swipe control condition; intelligibility of the instructions: g=−0.86, distancing from dysfunctional beliefs: g=0.22, and approaching functional beliefs: g=0.55). Regarding clinical efficacy, the pretest-posttest effect sizes for changes in perceived stress were g=0.80 for the comparison between the eAAMT-SP and inactive control conditions and g=0.76 for the comparison between the eAAMT-SP and swipe control conditions. Effect sizes for the secondary clinical outcomes indicated greater pretest-posttest changes in the eAAMT-SP condition than in the inactive control condition and comparable changes in the swipe control condition.


The findings regarding the feasibility of the intervention were satisfactory except for the technical feasibility of the intervention, which should be improved. The effect sizes for the clinical outcomes provide preliminary evidence for the therapeutic potential of the intervention. The findings suggest that extending the AAMT paradigm through the use of emotions may increase its efficacy. Future research should evaluate the eAAMT-SP in sufficiently powered randomized controlled trials.

Authors with CRIS profile

Involved external institutions

How to cite


Rupp, L., Keinert, M., Böhme, S., Gmelch, L.M., Eskofier, B., Schuller, B.W., & Berking, M. (2023). Sadness-Based Approach-Avoidance Modification Training for Subjective Stress in Adults: Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Formative Research, 7, e50324.


Rupp, Lydia, et al. "Sadness-Based Approach-Avoidance Modification Training for Subjective Stress in Adults: Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial." JMIR Formative Research 7 (2023): e50324.

BibTeX: Download