Facilitating a benign interpretation bias in a high socially anxious population.
Murphy R., Hirsch CR., Mathews A., Smith K., Clark DM.
Previous research has shown that high socially anxious individuals lack the benign interpretation bias present in people without social anxiety. The tendency of high socially anxious people to generate more negative interpretations may lead to anticipated anxiety about future social situations. If so, developing a more benign interpretation bias could lead to a reduction in this anxiety. The current study showed that a benign interpretation bias could be facilitated (or 'trained') in a high socially anxious population. Participants in the benign training groups had repeated practice in accessing benign (positive or non-negative) interpretations of potentially threatening social scenarios. Participants in the control condition were presented with the same social scenarios but without their outcomes being specified. In a later recognition task, participants who received benign interpretation training generated more benign, and less negative, interpretations of new ambiguous social situations compared to the control group. Participants who received benign training also predicted that they would be significantly less anxious in a future social situation than those in the control group. Possible implications of the findings for therapeutic interventions in social phobia are discussed.