Original Article

Child Psychiatry & Human Development

, Volume 42, Issue 6, pp 679-693

First online:

The Plasticity of Adolescent Cognitions: Data from a Novel Cognitive Bias Modification Training Task

  • Jennifer Y. F. LauAffiliated withDepartment of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford Email author 
  • , Emma MolyneauxAffiliated withDepartment of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford
  • , Machteld D. TelmanAffiliated withInstitute of Psychiatry, King’s College London
  • , Stefano BelliAffiliated withDepartment of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford

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Many adult anxiety problems emerge in adolescence. Investigating how adolescent anxiety arises and abates is critical for understanding and preventing adult psychiatric problems. Drawing threat interpretations from ambiguous material is linked to adolescent anxiety but little research has clarified the causal nature of this relationship. Work in adults using Cognitive Bias Modification of Interpretations (CBM-I) training show that manipulating negative interpretational style alters negative affect. Conversely, ‘boosting’ positive interpretations improves affect. Here, we extend CBM-I investigations to adolescents. Thirty-nine adolescents (13–18 years), varying in trait anxiety and self-efficacy, were randomly allocated to receive positive or negative training. Training-congruent differences emerged for subsequent interpretation style. Induced negative biases predicted a decline in positive affect in low self-efficacious adolescents only. Tentatively, our data suggest that cognitive biases predict adolescent affective symptoms in vulnerable individuals. The acquisition of positive cognitions through training has implications for prevention.


Adolescence Anxiety Interpretation style Cognitive bias modification training