INTERPRETIVE BIAS AND ANXIETY VULNERABILITY IN BEHAVIORALLY INHIBITED CHILDREN: DISAMBIGUATING THE COGNITIVE AND EMOTIONAL EFFECTS ASSOCIATED WITH INTERPRETIVE BIAS ACQUISITION
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Behavioral inhibition (BI), a temperament characterized by a fear of novel and unfamiliar people and situations, is associated with increased risk for anxiety problems throughout life. One mechanism thought to moderate the link between BI and anxiety is a child's interpretive bias (i.e., the manner in which emotional ambiguity is interpreted). Behaviorally inhibited children who consistently interpret ambiguous information in a threatening manner are thought to be at increased risk for anxiety. Conversely, behaviorally inhibited children who consistently interpret ambiguity as benign or non-threatening may be protected from such risk. Little research, however, has experimentally examined interpretive biases in behaviorally inhibited children. This dissertation investigates the causal relations between interpretive biases and anxiety vulnerability in behaviorally inhibited children. To examine if changes in interpretive biases affect anxiety vulnerability, a cognitive bias modification procedure was employed to induce a non-threatening interpretive bias in a group of 9-12 year old behaviorally inhibited children. After training, children were assessed on their mood, emotional vulnerability to stress, and attention bias toward threat in order to determine if bias modification affected anxiety vulnerability. The findings of this study demonstrate that the cognitive bias manipulation was successful; behaviorally inhibited children displayed decreased threat interpretations after training. No training effects on anxiety vulnerability were detected. As a result, the notion that interpretive biases are causally linked to a child's anxiety vulnerability is not supported by the findings of this study. The implications of these findings are discussed in this dissertation.