Original Article

Child Psychiatry and Human Development

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 469-480

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

A Space Odyssey: Experimental Manipulation of Threat Perception and Anxiety-Related Interpretation Bias in Children

  • Peter MurisAffiliated withInstitute of Psychology, Erasmus University Rotterdam Email author 
  • , Jorg HuijdingAffiliated withInstitute of Psychology, Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • , Birgit MayerAffiliated withInstitute of Psychology, Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • , Marjolein HameetmanAffiliated withInstitute of Psychology, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Abstract

This study provides a first test of an experimental method, the “space odyssey” paradigm, that was designed to manipulate interpretation bias in children. Seventy non-clinical children aged 8–12 years first completed a standardized anxiety questionnaire. Following this, they completed the space odyssey paradigm to induce either a negative or a positive interpretation bias. After this stage of interpretation training, children were presented with a series of ambiguous vignettes for which they had to rate perceived levels of threat as an index of interpretation bias. Results indicated that the space odyssey paradigm was successful in training interpretations: children in the negative training condition quickly learned to choose negative outcomes, while children in the positive training condition rapidly learned to select positive outcomes. Most importantly, children’s subsequent threat perception scores for the ambiguous vignettes were affected by the manipulation. That is, children in the negative training condition perceived more threat than children in the positive training condition. Interestingly, the effects of training were most pronounced in high anxious children. Directions for future research with this paradigm are briefly discussed.

Keywords

Children Anxiety Interpretation bias Interpretation training Experimental manipulation