Functional Imagery Training is the result of over two decades of research on mental imagery and emotion by Andrade and May at Plymouth University and Kavanagh at QUT in Brisbane, Australia. This page summarises the path from theory development through laboratory and psychometric testing to the creation of FIT as an intervention.
Functional Imagery Training is based on a theory of motivation called Elaborated Intrusion theory.
In Elaborated Intrusion theory, mental imagery is central to cravings for drugs and food, and to functional desires to exercise, for example. Questionnaire studies show that people who are craving a substance or an activity experience spontaneous thoughts about the substance or activity, and multi-sensory imagery.
These surveys, and the theoretical basis of Elaborated Intrusion theory, provided the foundation for developing better measures of cravings and motivation.
Mental imagery is central to motivation because it is very closely linked to emotion. It provides a mental experience not only of what one plans to do but also how it would feel to do it. Situations that make it hard to form an image or recall a memory vividly also dampen the emotional charge of that image or memory.
Baddeley and Andrade (2000) showed that vivid imagery depends on limited-capacity working memory systems, which means that keeping a vivid functional image in mind reduces the power of craving imagery.
Laboratory tests of Elaborated Intrusion theory show that blocking visual imagery with simple cognitive tasks reduces cravings.
Similar tasks, like playing Tetris for 3 minutes, also reduce naturally experienced cravings outside the laboratory.
However, it still takes motivation to use a game like Tetris to block a craving rather than indulge it, hence the focus in Functional Imagery Training of strengthening motivation for a healthy goal rather than merely blocking cravings. When we first described FIT, we called it Functional Decision Making. We changed the name to Functional Imagery Training to emphasise the focus on eliciting and developing motivational imagery, and the importance of training imagery as a skill for using outside the therapy session.
The motivational interviewing style of delivering FIT has an extensive track record.
The first trial of FIT was published in 2016. Volunteers who wanted to eat fewer high calorie snacks were randomised to receive a 45-minute FIT interview either at the start of the trial or after a 2-week delay. Snacking reduced more in the 2 weeks after FIT than in the 2 weeks before it, and motivation increased after FIT.
In a study of gym members who wanted to get better use out of their membership, a single session of FIT increased exercise frequency and motivation relative to information and advice about exercising.
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May, J., Kavanagh, D. J., & Andrade, J. (2015). The Elaborated Intrusion Theory of Desire: A 10-year retrospective and implications for addiction treatments. Addictive Behaviors, 44, 29-34. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2014.09.016
May, J., Andrade, J, Panabokke, N. & Kavanagh, D. (2004). Images of desire: Cognitive models of craving, Memory, 12(4), 447-461.
May, J., Andrade, J., Kavanagh, D., & Penfound, L. (2008). Imagery and strength of craving for eating, drinking and playing sport, Cognition and Emotion, 22(4), 633-650.
Kavanagh, D. J., May, J., & Andrade, J. (2009). Tests of the elaborated intrusion theory of craving and desire: Features of alcohol craving during treatment for an alcohol disorder, British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 48, 241-254.
May, J., Andrade, J., Kavanagh, D. J., Feeney, G. F. X., Gullo, M., Statham, D. J., Skorka-Brown, J., Connolly, J. M., Cassimatis, M., Young, R. McD., & Connor, J. P. (2014). The Craving Experience Questionnaire: A brief, theory-based measure of consummatory desire and craving. Addiction, 109, 728–735.
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Kavanagh, D. J., Freese, S., Andrade, J. & May, J. (2001) Effects of visuospatial tasks on desensitization to emotive memories, British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 40, 267-280.
Lilley, S., Andrade, J., Turpin, G., Sabin-Farrell, R., & Holmes, E. A. (2009). Visuo-spatial working memory interference with recollections of trauma, British J Clinical Psychology, 48. 309-321.
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Andrade, J., Pears, S., May, J. & Kavanagh, D. J. (2012). Use of a clay modeling task to reduce chocolate craving, Appetite, 58, 955–963
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Skorka-Brown, J., Andrade, J. & May, J. (2014). Playing ‘Tetris’ reduces the strength, frequency and vividness of naturally occurring cravings. Appetite. 76, 161-165.
Van Dillen L.F. & Andrade J. (2016). Derailing the streetcar named desire. Cognitive distractions reduce individual differences in cravings and unhealthy snacking in response to palatable food, Appetite, 96, 102–110. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.09.013.
Skorka-Brown, J., Andrade, J., Whalley, B. & May, J. (2015). Playing Tetris decreases drug and other cravings in real world settings. Addictive Behaviors, 51, 165-170.
Lennox, E., Andrade, J., Kavanagh, D. J., & May, J. (2016). Do you come here often? Using motivational imagery to increase physical activity, manuscript in submission.
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Andrade, J., Khalil, M., Dickson, J., May, J. & Kavanagh, D.J. (2016). Functional Imagery Training to reduce snacking: Testing a novel motivational intervention based on Elaborated Intrusion theory. Appetite, 100, 256-262. doi 10.1016/j.appet.2016.02.015