Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 406–415 | Cite as

Interpretation in Social Anxiety: When Meaning Precedes Ambiguity

  • Courtney Beard
  • Nader Amir
Original Article


Cognitive models of anxiety posit that negative beliefs influence socially anxious individuals’ interpretation of ambiguous social cues. However, paradigms used to assess interpretation bias in social anxiety have not addressed such beliefs. Furthermore, studies have assessed interpretation with either self-report or reaction time paradigms, rather than using both methods. In the current study, socially anxious and non-anxious participants completed the Word Sentence Association Paradigm (WSAP). In the WSAP, participants decide whether or not a word (implying a threat or benign interpretation) is related to an ambiguous sentence. Threat or benign meanings preceded the ambiguity in order to examine the influence of positive and negative beliefs on interpretation of ambiguous information. The WSAP results in two types of interpretation indices: (1) response latency to make relatedness decisions for threat and benign interpretations, and (2) endorsement rates of the relatedness of threat and benign interpretations to ambiguous sentences. Results revealed a threat interpretation bias and a lack of a benign interpretation bias in both reaction time and self-report data. Threat and benign biases were not strongly correlated. These findings support the distinction between threat and benign interpretation biases.


Interpretation bias Social anxiety Information processing 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Human BehaviorAlpert Medical School of Brown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologySDSU/UCSD Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical PsychologySan DiegoUSA

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