Category: Adult Anxiety - Social
Background: Information processing biases have been identified as key maintenance factors in social anxiety (SA). In particular, interpretation bias (IB), the tendency to interpret neutral cues and situations negatively as opposed to positively, has been implicated in SA. Furthermore, individuals with SA tend to experience more negative affect and less positive affect than controls. We examined the relationship between SA, IB, and negative affect using the Word Sentence Association Paradigm (WSAP). We predicted that IB would mediate the relationship between SA and negative affect.
Methods: A sample of undergraduate participants (N=100) completed questionnaires assessing SA and positive and negative affect as well as the WSAP, a computerized response time task that measures IB. The task briefly presented a word followed by an ambiguous socially-related sentence, and the participants indicated whether the two were related, simulating either a positive or negative interpretation. We computed the percentage of negative responses made. Difference scores between negative response and positive response reaction times were created to represent threat bias. Higher threat bias signified a faster response to negative pairs versus positive pairs.
Results: SA was positively correlated with threat bias (r=.30, p=.003) and negative affect (r=.51, p < .001). Threat bias was positively correlated with negative affect (r=.36, p < .001). The percentage of negative interpretations endorsed on the WSAP was also positively correlated with SA (r=.55, p < .001) and negative affect (r=.44, p < .001). Mediational analyses revealed that threat bias partially mediated the relationship between SA and negative affect (indirect effect: b=.05, 95% CI (.01, .10)). The percentage of negative interpretations endorsed also partially mediated the relationship between SA and negative affect (indirect effect: b=.09, 95% CI (.004, .18). Further analyses of SA, IB and affect will be presented.
Conclusion: We found substantial evidence for IB as a mediator of the relationship between SA and negative affect using both percentage of negative interpretations and response time measures. These findings broaden our understanding of the role of information processing in the relationship between SA and negative affect. Targeting IB in treatment may be an effective way to decrease negative affect related to social anxiety.