Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 42, Issue 6, pp 832–843 | Cite as

Training Less Threatening Interpretations Over the Internet: Impact of Priming Anxious Imagery and Using a Neutral Control Condition

  • Cierra B. EdwardsEmail author
  • Sam Portnow
  • Nauder Namaky
  • Bethany A. Teachman
Original Article


Cognitive Bias Modification to reduce threat interpretations (CBM-I) is a computer-based paradigm designed to train a less negative interpretation bias that has shown some success in the lab, but results for web-based CBM-I are often mixed. To test possible explanations for the poorer results online, participants high in social anxiety (N = 379) were recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to complete a single-session, proof-of-principle study to investigate: (1) whether web-based CBM-I can shift interpretations of social situations to be less negative and reduce anticipatory social anxiety, (2) whether a common “control” condition used in CBM-I studies is in fact inert by incorporating an alternate control condition, and (2) whether priming anxious imagery prior to training moderates CBM-I’s effects. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three training conditions: all positive, half positive/half negative, or neutral unemotional scenarios. Participants also received an anxious or neutral imagery prime before training. Although results were somewhat mixed across outcome measures, findings generally suggested that participants exhibited less negative interpretations of ambiguous social scenarios following positive training with an anxious imagery prime. There was also some evidence that the neutral training condition was associated with less negative interpretations, and evidence that the half positive/half negative training condition led to the least anticipatory anxiety, especially when paired with anxious imagery. Findings are discussed in light of different training effects for near- and far-transfer outcomes.


Social anxiety Cognitive bias Interpretations Fear of negative evaluation Internet 



We are thankful to Emily Holmes, Simon Blackwell, Andrew Mathews, Bundy Mackintosh and their research teams for sharing some of their training materials. Some of their scenarios were included, typically in a modified form, as part of our training materials. We would also like to thank Shari Steinman and Alexandra Werntz for creating scenarios for the training task. Also, thanks to members of the Teachman Program for Anxiety, Cognition, and Treatment (PACT) Lab for their feedback and suggestions on this study. This research was supported in part by an NIMH grant (NIMH R34MH106770), as well as a Templeton Science of Prospection Award, to B. Teachman. Note, Teachman has a significant financial interest in Project Implicit, Inc., which provided services in support of this project under contract with the University of Virginia.


This study was funded by National Institute of Mental Health grants R34MH106770 and R01MH113752.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

B. Teachman has a significant financial interest in Project Implicit, Inc., which provided services for hosting data collection for this project. C. Edwards, S. Portnow and N. Namaky declares that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Animal Rights Statements

No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this article.

Supplementary material

10608_2018_9922_MOESM1_ESM.docx (18 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 18 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.West Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA

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