Interpretive biases for ambiguous stimuli in social anxiety

Joseph I. Constans, David L. Penn, Gail H. Ihen, Debra A. Hope

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


A growing body of literature suggests that individuals with high levels of general anxiety form threatening interpretations of ambiguous events. Although theoretical formulations of pathological social anxiety emphasize the importance of a negative interpretive-style in the etiology and maintenance of the disorder, we are unaware of any study that documents this presumed phenomenon. To address this issue, we assessed for possible interpretive biases in a group of high and low socially-anxious students. The results indicated that socially-anxious subjects showed more threatening interpretations of ambiguous, interpersonal events when compared to the low-anxious participants. However, this bias was marked not so much by an outright negative interpretation style, but rather by a failure of the socially-anxious subjects to show a positive interpretation as was evinced by the low-anxious individuals. These group differences in interpretive style appeared to be influenced by trait aspects of social anxiety rather than differences in current mood state. No group differences emerged in interpretations of events that involved non-personal stimuli suggesting there is content specificity in the interpretive biases associated with social-anxiety. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)643-651
Number of pages9
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1999


  • Social anxiety
  • Stimulus ambiguity
  • Stroop task
  • Threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Interpretive biases for ambiguous stimuli in social anxiety'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this