Investigating the causal contribution of interpretive bias to anxiety vulnerability

Edward Wilson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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[Truncated abstract] It has frequently been reported that individuals with elevated anxiety vulnerability impose threat-congruent interpretations upon emotionally ambiguous stimuli. A common hypothesis is that such threat-congruent interpretations contribute causally to the intensity and frequency of the anxiety elevations experienced by vulnerable individuals. However, no direct evidence has been provided to support this hypothesis. Empirically evaluating this theoretical position was the goal of the series of empirical studies described in this thesis. The approach employed here involved first, systematically and specifically manipulating interpretive bias, and second, assessing the consequences of such manipulations for anxiety vulnerability as assessed by individual differences in the intensity of emotional reaction to a subsequent stressor. This research was conducted in two phases. The studies in Phase 1 were designed to permit the development of training tasks, capable of inducing group differences in interpretive bias. The employed approach to such interpretive training involved the modification of priming tasks previously used to assess interpretive bias. In each trial of such priming tasks, homograph primes with both threatening and non-threatening meanings are first presented, followed by targets which, on different trials, are related to their threatening or to their non-threatening meanings. Participants are required to respond to identify each target, using the prime as a cue. In order to create interpretive training tasks capable of manipulating interpretive bias, contingencies were introduced into such priming task methodologies, such that the targets were related to differentially valenced prime meanings for different groups of participants. For the threat training group, the targets presented during training were always related to the threatening meanings of the 2 homograph primes, making it advantageous for these participants to interpret the primes in a threat-congruent fashion, with the intention of inducing a threat-congruent interpretive bias. For the non-threat training group, the targets in training were always related to the non-threatening meanings of the ambiguous primes, making it advantageous to interpret the primes in a non-threat-congruent fashion, with the intention of thus encouraging a non-threat-congruent interpretive bias. The success of these training procedures in modifying interpretive bias was then assessed in subsequent, non-contingent versions of these priming procedures
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2004


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